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India’s many distinct peoples spring from two ancient populations

DNA analysis has shown that India’s many distinct peoples sprang from two ancient populations, and inbreeding has led to marked genetic differences amoung the castes.

Nick Patterson of the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and colleagues examined fragments of DNA from 25 groups across India. They included castes and hunter-gatherer tribes, or “scheduled populations”. Each of these groups was genetically distinct, but the profiling indicated that all Indians spring from one of two populations: Ancestral North Indians (ANI), who are genetically close to Europeans, and Ancestral South Indians, who are distinct from both east Asians and ANI (Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature08365).

“If you’re trying to understand disease and distribution between south and north India, there could be environmental or lifestyle issues,” says Patterson, “but genetics could also offer a perfectly possible explanation.”

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