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Genetic diversity and the emergence of ethnic groups in Central Asia

Evelyne Heyer1*, Patricia Balaresque2, Mark A Jobling2, Lluis Quintana-Murci3, Raphaelle Chaix1, Laure Segurel1, Almaz Aldashev4 and Tanya Hegay5

Author Affiliations

1 Eco-anthropologie et Ethnobiologie, UMR7206 Département Hommes Natures Sociétés, Musée de l'Homme - 17, Place du Trocadéro - 75116 Paris, France

2 Department of Genetics, University of Leicester, Adrian Building, University Road, Leicester, LE1 7RH, UK

3 Human Evolutionary Genetics Unit, CNRS URA3012, Institut Pasteur, Paris, France

4 Institute of Molecular Biology and Medicine, National Center of Cardiology and Internal Medicine, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

5 Uzbek Academy of Sciences, Institute of Immunology, Tashkent, Uzbekistan

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BMC Genetics 2009, 10:49  doi:10.1186/1471-2156-10-49

Published: 1 September 2009



In this study, we used genetic data that we collected in Central Asia, in addition to data from the literature, to understand better the origins of Central Asian groups at a fine-grained scale, and to assess how ethnicity influences the shaping of genetic differences in the human species. We assess the levels of genetic differentiation between ethnic groups on one hand and between populations of the same ethnic group on the other hand with mitochondrial and Y-chromosomal data from several populations per ethnic group from the two major linguistic groups in Central Asia.


Our results show that there are more differences between populations of the same ethnic group than between ethnic groups for the Y chromosome, whereas the opposite is observed for mtDNA in the Turkic group. This is not the case for Tajik populations belonging to the Indo-Iranian group where the mtDNA like the Y-chomosomal differentiation is also significant between populations within this ethnic group. Further, the Y-chromosomal analysis of genetic differentiation between populations belonging to the same ethnic group gives some estimation of the minimal age of these ethnic groups. This value is significantly higher than what is known from historical records for two of the groups and lends support to Barth's hypothesis by indicating that ethnicity, at least for these two groups, should be seen as a constructed social system maintaining genetic boundaries with other ethnic groups, rather than the outcome of common genetic ancestry


Our analysis of uniparental markers highlights in Central Asia the differences between Turkic and Indo-Iranian populations in their sex-specific differentiation and shows good congruence with anthropological data.