A Linguistically Informed Autosomal STR Survey of Human Populations Residing in the Greater Himalayan Region

The greater Himalayan region demarcates two of the most prominent linguistic phyla in Asia: Tibeto-Burman and Indo-European. Previous genetic surveys, mainly using Y-chromosome polymorphisms and/or mitochondrial DNA polymorphisms suggested a substantially reduced geneflow between populations belonging to these two phyla. These studies, however, have mainly focussed on populations residing far to the north and/or south of this mountain range, and have not been able to study geneflow patterns within the greater Himalayan region itself. We now report a detailed, linguistically informed, genetic survey of Tibeto-Burman and Indo-European speakers from the Himalayan countries Nepal and Bhutan based on autosomal microsatellite markers and compare these populations with surrounding regions. The genetic differentiation between populations within the Himalayas seems to be much higher than between populations in the neighbouring countries. We also observe a remarkable genetic differentiation between the Tibeto-Burman speaking populations on the one hand and Indo-European speaking populations on the other, suggesting that language and geography have played an equally large role in defining the genetic composition of present-day populations within the Himalayas.

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