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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Genetic variation in South Indian castes: evidence from Y-chromosome, mitochondrial, and autosomal polymorphisms

WS Watkins1, R Thara2, BJ Mowry34, Y Zhang1, DJ Witherspoon1, W Tolpinrud1, MJ Bamshad5, S Tirupati2, R Padmavati2, H Smith34, D Nancarrow4, C Filippich34 and LB Jorde1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Human Genetics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT 84112, USA

2 Schizophrenia Research Foundation, Chennai, 600101, India

3 Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research, Wacol, Brisbane, 4076, Australia

4 Queensland Institute of Medical Research, Herston, Brisbane, 4006, Australia

5 Department of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA 98195, USA

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BMC Genetics 2008, 9:86  doi:10.1186/1471-2156-9-86

Published: 12 December 2008

Abstract

Background

Major population movements, social structure, and caste endogamy have influenced the genetic structure of Indian populations. An understanding of these influences is increasingly important as gene mapping and case-control studies are initiated in South Indian populations.

Results

We report new data on 155 individuals from four Tamil caste populations of South India and perform comparative analyses with caste populations from the neighboring state of Andhra Pradesh. Genetic differentiation among Tamil castes is low (RST = 0.96% for 45 autosomal short tandem repeat (STR) markers), reflecting a largely common origin. Nonetheless, caste- and continent-specific patterns are evident. For 32 lineage-defining Y-chromosome SNPs, Tamil castes show higher affinity to Europeans than to eastern Asians, and genetic distance estimates to the Europeans are ordered by caste rank. For 32 lineage-defining mitochondrial SNPs and hypervariable sequence (HVS) 1, Tamil castes have higher affinity to eastern Asians than to Europeans. For 45 autosomal STRs, upper and middle rank castes show higher affinity to Europeans than do lower rank castes from either Tamil Nadu or Andhra Pradesh. Local between-caste variation (Tamil Nadu RST = 0.96%, Andhra Pradesh RST = 0.77%) exceeds the estimate of variation between these geographically separated groups (RST = 0.12%). Low, but statistically significant, correlations between caste rank distance and genetic distance are demonstrated for Tamil castes using Y-chromosome, mtDNA, and autosomal data.

Conclusion

Genetic data from Y-chromosome, mtDNA, and autosomal STRs are in accord with historical accounts of northwest to southeast population movements in India. The influence of ancient and historical population movements and caste social structure can be detected and replicated in South Indian caste populations from two different geographic regions.