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Thread: The Genetic Map of Europe

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    The Genetic Map of Europe




    August 13, 2008

    Biologists have constructed a genetic map of Europe showing the degree of relatedness between its various populations.


    All the populations are quite similar, but the differences are sufficient that it should be possible to devise a forensic test to tell which country in Europe an individual probably comes from, said Manfred Kayser, a geneticist at the Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands.

    The map shows, at right, the location in Europe where each of the sampled populations live and, at left, the genetic relationship between these 23 populations. The map was constructed by Dr. Kayser, Dr. Oscar Lao and others, and appears in an article in Current Biology published on line on August 7.

    The genetic map of Europe bears a clear structural similarity to the geographic map. The major genetic differences are between populations of the north and south (the vertical axis of the map shows north-south differences, the horizontal axis those of east-west). The area assigned to each population reflects the amount of genetic variation in it.

    Europe has been colonized three times in the distant past, always from the south. Some 45,000 years ago the first modern humans entered Europe from the south. The glaciers returned around 20,000 years ago and the second colonization occurred about 17,000 years ago by people returning from southern refuges. The third invasion was that of farmers bringing the new agricultural technology from the Near East around 10,000 years ago.

    The pattern of genetic differences among present day Europeans probably reflects the impact of these three ancient migrations, Dr. Kayser said.

    The map also identifies the existence of two genetic barriers within Europe. One is between the Finns (light blue, upper right) and other Europeans. It arose because the Finnish population was at one time very small and then expanded, bearing the atypical genetics of its few founders.

    The other is between Italians (yellow, bottom center) and the rest. This may reflect the role of the Alps in impeding free flow of people between Italy and the rest of Europe.

    Data for the map were generated by gene chips programmed to test and analyze 500,000 sites of common variation on the human genome, although only the 300,000 most reliable sites were used for the map. Dr. Kayser's team tested almost 2,500 people and analyzed the data by correlating the genetic variations in all the subjects. The genetic map is based on the two strongest of these sets of correlations.

    The gene chips require large amounts of DNA, more than is available in most forensic samples. Dr. Kayser hopes to identify the sites on the human genome which are most diagnostic for European origin. These sites, if reasonably few in number, could be tested for in hair and blood samples, Dr. Kayser said.

    Genomic sites that carry the strongest signal of variation among populations may be those influenced by evolutionary change, Dr. Kayser said. Of the 100 strongest sites, 17 are found in the region of the genome that confers lactose tolerance, an adaptation that arose among a cattle herding culture in northern Europe some 5,000 years ago. Most people switch off the lactose digesting gene after weaning, but the cattle herders evidently gained a great survival advantage by keeping the gene switched on through adulthood.

    Source.
    Source for fig. 2.
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    Swedes are apparently slightly closer genetically to northern Germans than to Danes and Norwegians. Weird! :

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    Quote Originally Posted by ÆinvargR View Post
    Swedes are apparently slightly closer genetically to northern Germans than to Danes and Norwegians. Weird! :
    The way I see it is this; Northern Germany is a large an fairly central area and duplicates almost all of the Danish variation within it, as well as about half of the Swedish variation. Because Germany is larger and because of it's location it contains more elements than smaller less central areas.

    However, Sweden does appear to lay closer to Denmark and North Germany than to Norway, but perhaps that can be explained by the fairly fearsome spine of mountains that separates much of Sweden from much of Norway? Meanwhile, there is only a short sea route separating Sweden from Denmark and the North coast of Germany no significant geographical boundary between Denmark and Germany at all, and only a fairly minor cultural one.
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    I'd have expected to see Ireland cluster more closely with Spain. It would have been interesting to see a category for the Bsques as well.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ÆinvargR View Post
    Swedes are apparently slightly closer genetically to northern Germans than to Danes and Norwegians. Weird! :
    The Swedes and North Germans are both shielded from those Atlantic gusts, you see! Whatever was going on along the Ocean's coasts never penetrated too far westward, it seems.
    That and the fact that Swedes had a bit of Pomerania for a long while, and played around in wars in that part of the world!

    Oops, Horned One, you beat me!

    Quote Originally Posted by Cuchulain View Post
    I'd have expected to see Ireland cluster more closely with Spain. It would have been interesting to see a category for the Bsques as well.
    It is indeed far too incomplete! I want one of the whole world! Never mind just the near bits of Russia and North Africa! And as you say, it should have been done ethnically, not on a state basis.

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    Quote Originally Posted by The Horned God View Post
    Some other interesting observations;

    Interesting how some populations seem to be made up of two or more distinct elements. Rumania, especially. It seems to be mainly Palaeobalkan, with a foot in the Italic and northeastern Slavonic worlds. Just as you would expect from history, but nice to see it confirmed, and thus lending a little more credibility to the scheme as a whole.

    Nice to see such Irish and Norse overlap. Funny though, that it's not more discrete, as in the Rumanian case. Ireland here is just a round blob. Perhaps the scale needs tinkering with, and it'd show up if we 'zoomed in', though I suppose the general indication of Atlantic continuum should be recognised. However, the Iberian link is not nearly so strong as we might have been led to expect, as Cuchulain said. I suppose greater sample sizes might change this. Or perhaps not, after all!

    Funny that Ireland almost sits within the UK blob, with the UK having an even more prominent branch of outliers. We must have some real freakish peculiarities here, sat on our island fortress! Or is this just recent Irish immigration? Scots and Picts? How did they select people? Lack of overlap with the French is also curious.

    Wicked Magyar slaving policy in the 10th Century shows in their tentacles reaching into the Western Slavonic and Balkan spheres, with a little one showing the links with central Germany (but not the Austrian section, funnily enough).

    Very odd that the centre of the chart is an empty void. Slovenes, Lombards, Venetians, step forward and be measured!

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    However, the Iberian link is not nearly so strong as we might have been led to expect, as Cuchulain said. I suppose greater sample sizes might change this. Or perhaps not, after all!
    Well, you can hardly call the accuracy of a sample of 2500 people drawn from 23 populations adequate, I think. But they may have compensated the size with an appropriate regional spread. I reckon the Iberic link has been more prominent in past mappings, no? I might have some data along those lines from Cavalli-Sforza somewhere.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cuchulain View Post
    I'd have expected to see Ireland cluster more closely with Spain. It would have been interesting to see a category for the Bsques as well.
    This surprised me as well. I think the explanation must lie in the fact that most studies showing a very strong Celtic-Iberian link only take Y-chromosome evidence into account and seem to ignore the fact that R1b the so called Basque Haplogroup is also the single most most common Haplogroup in the rest of western Europe. If anything R1b is at a higher incidence in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Even England than it is in Iberia as a whole.

    This kind of study looks at multiple genes to get an idea of overall "genetic distances" between nations rather than rely only on the male lineage.

    When you think about it, it stands to reason (not always a perfect indicator I know, but still..) that as most of the Irish and British tend look more northern or central European rather than southern European that they are also closer to the former genetically.
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    I think the map just shows the obvious geography and the European ethnic groups are largely differentiated as the historical migrations played very little in it all. Europe was settled principally during the Neolithic.. even R1b didnt reach Britain and the rest of the North until after the last Ice Age, with Cheddar Man, some 6-8,000 years ago.

    Only very drift is present there. Italy is clearly Western European and separated from the Balkans, although one same sample is close to there which could be Pre-historical or "Greek". But some German, Netherlands, Romanian and Yugoslavian samples seem to be closer to Italy..which could be Roman colonial derived.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Oswiu View Post
    Wicked Magyar slaving policy in the 10th Century shows in their tentacles reaching into the Western Slavonic and Balkan spheres, with a little one showing the links with central Germany (but not the Austrian section, funnily enough).
    According to the historical accounts of Budapest that I have read, the waves of German migrants came from southern/western Germany (I think Franconia was at least one, can't remember exactly)
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