wsCorrelation between Genetic and Geographic Structure in Europe

by Lao, Oscar et al. (2008)

Full Text Available in Current Biology; See also this article in the IHT

Maybe not that weird, but definitely interesting. Biologists from the Erasmus University in Rotterdam and others have constructed a genetic map of Europe. They investigated genotype data from 2,514 individuals belonging to 23 different subpopulations, widely spread over Europe. Although they found only a low level of genetic differentiation between subpopulations, the existing differences were characterized by a strong continent-wide correlation between geographic and genetic distance. This resulted in the following genetic map of Europe (click to enlarge).

Genetic Map of Europe

The IHT explains: 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.

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.

But the study provides more than just an interesting picture. The authors explain that understanding the genetic structure of the European population is important, not only from a historical perspective, but also for the appropriate design and interpretation of genetic epidemiological studies.

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