July 28, 2005

Diversity of tribal Indians

Annals of Human Genetics (Early view)

Diversity and Divergence Among the Tribal Populations of India

W.S. Watkins et al.


Tribal populations of the Indian subcontinent have been of longstanding interest to anthropologists and human geneticists. To investigate the relationship of Indian tribes to Indian castes and continental populations, we analyzed 45 unlinked autosomal STR loci in 9 tribal groups, 8 castes, and 18 populations from Africa, Europe and East Asia. South Indian tribal populations demonstrate low within-population heterozygosity (range: 0.54 - 0.69), while tribal populations sampled further north and east have higher heterozygosity (range: 0.69 - 0.74). Genetic distance estimates show that tribal Indians are more closely related to caste Indians than to other major groups. Between-tribe differentiation is high and exceeds that for eight sub-Saharan African populations (4.8% vs. 3.7%). Telugu-speaking populations are less differentiated than non-Telugu speakers (FST: 0.029 vs. 0.079), but geographic distance was not predictive of genetic affinity between tribes. South Indian tribes show significant population structure, and individuals can be clustered statistically into groups that correspond with their tribal affiliation. These results are consistent with high levels of genetic drift and isolation in Indian tribal populations, particularly those of South India, and they imply that these populations may be potential candidates for linkage disequilibrium and association mapping.


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