Genetic Chaos

Friday, December 09, 2005

Y-chromosome variation and Irish origins

Ireland’s position on the western edge of Europe suggests that the genetics of its population should have been relatively undisturbed by the demographic movements that have shaped variation on the mainland. We have typed 221 Y chromosomes from Irish males for seven (slowly evolving) biallelic and six (quickly evolving) simple tandem-repeat markers. When these samples are partitioned by surname, we find significant differences in genetic frequency between those of Irish Gaelic and of foreign origin, and also between those of eastern and western Irish origin. Connaught, the westernmost Irish province, lies at the geographical and genetic extreme of a Europe-wide cline.

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The mutation spectrum of hyperphenylalaninaemia in the Republic of Ireland: the population history of the Irish revisited

Phenylketonuric and hyperphenylalaninaemic patients in the population of the Republic of Ireland were screened for mutations at the human phenylalanine hydroxylase (PAH) locus. A composite data set for the island of Ireland was generated by merging the findings of this study with extant data for Northern Ireland. Analysis of this data on the basis of the four historic provinces (Munster, Leinster, Connacht and Ulster) revealed genetic diversity that is informative in terms of demographic forces that shaped the Irish population. R408W, the predominant Irish PAH mutation associated with haplotype 1.8, reached its highest relative frequency in the most westerly province, Connacht. This suggests that the gradient of R408W-1.8 observed across north-western Europe continues into Ireland and peaks in Connacht. Spatial autocorrelation analysis demonstrated that the gradient is consistent with a localised cline of R408W-1.8 likely to have been established by human migration. This and parallel allele frequency clines may represent the genetic traces of the Palaeolithic colonisation of Europe, a pattern not substantially altered in north-western Europe by subsequent Neolithic migrations. An analysis of mutant allele distributions in Ulster, Scotland and the rest of Ireland confirmed that Ulster has been a zone of considerable admixture between the Irish and Scottish populations, indicating a proportion of Scottish admixture in Ulster approaching 46%. Mutations primarily associated with Scandinavia accounted for 6.1% of mutations overall, illustrating the influence of Viking incursions on Irish population history.

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Genetic Diversity Within the R408W Phenylketonuria Mutation Lineages in Europe

The R408W phenylketonuria mutation in Europe has arisen by recurrent mutation in the human phenylalanine hydroxylase (PAH) locus and is associated with two major PAH haplotypes. R408W-2.3 exhibits a west-to-east cline of relative frequency reaching its maximum in the Balto–Slavic region, while R408W-1.8 exhibits an east-to-west cline peaking in Connacht, the most westerly province of Ireland. Spatial autocorrelation analysis has demonstrated that the R408W-2.3 cline, like that of R408W-1.8, is consistent with a pattern likely to have been established by human dispersal. Genetic diversity within wild-type and R408W chromosomes in Europe was assessed through variable number tandem repeat (VNTR) nucleotide sequence variation and tetranucleotide short tandem repeat (STR) allelic associations. Wild-type VNTR-8 chromosomes exhibited two major cassette sequence organizations: (a1)5-b3-b2-c1 and (a1)5-b5-b2-c1. R408W-1.8 was predominantly associated with (a1)5-b5-b2-c1. Both wild-type VNTR-3 and R408W-2.3 chromosomes exhibited a single invariant cassette sequence organization, a2-b2-c1. STR allele distributions associated with the cassette variants were consistent with greater diversity in the wild-type VNTR-8 lineage and were suggestive of different levels of diversity between R408W-1.8 and R408W-2.3. The finding of greater genetic diversity within the wild-type VNTR-8 lineage compared to VNTR-3 suggests that VNTR-8 may be older within the European population. However, in the absence of a more extensive STR data-set, no such conclusions are possible for the respective R408W mutant lineages.

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The Longue Duree of Genetic Ancestry: Multiple Genetic Marker Systems and Celtic Origins on the Atlantic Facade of Europe

Celtic languages are now spoken only on the Atlantic facade of Europe, mainly in Britain and Ireland, but were spoken more widely in western and central Europe until the collapse of the Roman Empire in the first millennium A.D. It has been common to couple archaeological evidence for the expansion of Iron Age elites in central Europe with the dispersal of these languages and of Celtic ethnicity and to posit a central European “homeland” for the Celtic peoples. More recently, however, archaeologists have questioned this “migrationist” view of Celtic ethnogenesis. The proposition of a central European ancestry should be testable by examining the distribution of genetic markers; however, although Y-chromosome patterns in Atlantic Europe show little evidence of central European influence, there has hitherto been insufficient data to confirm this by use of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Here, we present both new mtDNA data from Ireland and a novel analysis of a greatly enlarged European mtDNA database. We show that mtDNA lineages, when analyzed in sufficiently large numbers, display patterns significantly similar to a large fraction of both Y-chromosome and autosomal variation. These multiple genetic marker systems indicate a shared ancestry throughout the Atlantic zone, from northern Iberia to western Scandinavia, that dates back to the end of the last Ice Age.

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A Y-Chromosome Signature of Hegemony in Gaelic Ireland

Seventeen-marker simple tandem repeat genetic analysis of Irish Y chromosomes reveals a previously unnoted modal haplotype that peaks in frequency in the northwestern part of the island. It shows a significant association with surnames purported to have descended from the most important and enduring dynasty of early medieval Ireland, the Uí Néill. This suggests that such phylogenetic predominance is a biological record of past hegemony and supports the veracity of semimythological early genealogies. The fact that about one in five males sampled in northwestern Ireland is likely a patrilineal descendent of a single early medieval ancestor is a powerful illustration of the potential link between prolificacy and power and of how Y-chromosome phylogeography can be influenced by social selection.

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