Genetic heterogeneity in northeastern India: Reflection of Tribe–Caste continuum in the genetic structure

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Abstract

We critically examined the gene frequency data for 11 genetic markers commonly available in the literature for 22 populations of northeastern India in the light of their geographic, linguistic, and ethnic affiliations. The markers investigated were three blood groups (A1A2BO, MNS, and Rh), four serum proteins (KM, Gc, Hp, and Tf), and four enzyme systems (AP, AK, EsD, and Hb). The neighbor-joining tree and multidimensional scaling of the distance matrix suggest relatively high genetic differentiation among the Mongoloid groups, with probably diverse origins when compared to the Caucasoid Indo-European populations, which had probably come from relatively more homogeneous backgrounds. Broadly speaking, the pattern of population affinities conforms to the ethno-historic, linguistic, and geographic backgrounds. An interesting and important feature that emerges from this analysis is the reflection of the effect of the sociological process of a Tribe–Caste continuum on genetic structure. While on one end we have the cluster of Caucasoid caste populations, the other end consists of Mongoloid tribal groups. In between are the populations which were originally tribes but now have become semi-Hinduized caste groups, viz., Rajbanshi, Chutiya, and Ahom. These groups have currently assumed caste status and speak Indo-European languages. Therefore, one may infer that what appears to be a purely sociological phenomenon of a Tribe–Caste continuum may well reflect in their genetic structure. Am. J. Hum. Biol. 16:334–345, 2004. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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