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Roma (Gypsies): Genetic Studies

  1. Bharti Morar,
  2. Dimitar N Azmanov,
  3. Luba Kalaydjieva

Published Online: 15 APR 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0006239.pub3

eLS

eLS

How to Cite

Morar, B., Azmanov, D. N. and Kalaydjieva, L. 2013. Roma (Gypsies): Genetic Studies. eLS. .

Author Information

  1. University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 APR 2013

Abstract

The Roma, also known as Gypsies, are a transnational founder population, resembling a mosaic of socially and genetically divergent groups. Common origins from a small group of related founders result in sharing of maternal and paternal lineages and of ancient disease-causing mutations across endogamous Romani groups in different countries. Genetic differentiation between groups, with an impact on genetic epidemiology, is the product of bottleneck events, random genetic drift and differential admixture and correlates with the migrational history of the Roma in Europe. Genetic studies are concordant with linguistic data, which provide support for the Indian origins of the Gypsies and suggest a single founding population that originated in north/northwestern India.

Key Concepts:

  • The Roma/Gypsies are a European population of Asian descent (most likely from the north-western part of the Indian subcontinent), with origins documented by the presence of Indian maternal, paternal and autosomal lineages in parallel with admixture from autochthonous Europeans.

  • The genetic history of the Roma is a string of bottleneck events starting with the founding of the proto-Roma by a small group of Asian ancestors and followed by more recent population fissions reflecting the early migrations within Europe and the splits into multiple endogamous groups.

  • The current genetic profile of the Roma has been shaped by founder effects, genetic drift and differential admixture. The social organisation, similar to the jatis of India, with limited gene flow between Romani groups, has resulted in marked genetic substructure.

  • Autosomal recessive disorders occur at relatively high frequency and are usually characterised by limited mutational heterogeneity. They include disorders caused by mutations ‘imported’ from surrounding populations, which may reach high frequencies due to founder effect and drift as well as ‘private’ population-specific mutations leading to novel rare disorders.

  • The socially defined Romani group is the basic unit and starting point for medical genetic research due to limited diversity and common sharing of founder disease-causing mutations between apparently unrelated families.

Keywords:

  • Roma (gypsies);
  • founder populations;
  • origins;
  • genetic structure;
  • single-gene disorders