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Population genetics, history, and health patterns in native americans.

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Department of Anthropology, University of Florida , Gainesville, Florida 32611, USA.


Over the past two decades, detailed studies of mitochondrial DNA and the Y chromosome have increased our understanding of the history and population genetics of Native American populations. Variation in autosomal DNA has also been investigated, but to a more limited extent. A low level of genetic diversity in Native American populations is a robust finding from all lines of evidence. In contrast to the previous multiple migration scenarios for the Pleistocene peopling of the Americas, it now seems that a single migration satisfactorily explains the genetic data. Native Americans show greater genetic similarity to populations in east central Asia than they do to the current easternmost Siberian populations. Recent studies on the Y chromosome indicate a date of entry (about 17,000 years ago) into the Americas roughly consistent with the archaeological record. Native Americans experienced two episodes of reduced population size: one with the peopling of the Americas and the other with European contact. The former is the more important determinant for the number of gene lineages and founding haplotypes seen in populations. It may also be an important determinant of the genetic variation underlying common complex diseases, and especially diabetes. The tribal structure of contemporary Native American populations is relevant to the distribution of rare Mendelian disorders because most tribes constitute relatively small, semi-independent gene pools. This leads us to expect that the allelic spectrum for Mendelian diseases will be simple within individual tribes but complex for Native Americans as a whole.

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