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Bioessays. 2005 Oct;27(10):1084-94.

A newly discovered founder population: the Roma/Gypsies.

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  • 1Western Australian Institute for Medical Research and Centre for Medical Research, The University of Western Australia, Nedlands, Perth, Australia.


The Gypsies (a misnomer, derived from an early legend about Egyptian origins) defy the conventional definition of a population: they have no nation-state, speak different languages, belong to many religions and comprise a mosaic of socially and culturally divergent groups separated by strict rules of endogamy. Referred to as "the invisible minority", the Gypsies have for centuries been ignored by Western medicine, and their genetic heritage has only recently attracted attention. Common origins from a small group of ancestors characterise the 8-10 million European Gypsies as an unusual trans-national founder population, whose exodus from India played the role of a profound demographic bottleneck. Social and economic pressures within Europe led to gradual fragmentation, generating multiple genetically differentiated subisolates. The string of population bottlenecks and founder effects have shaped a unique genetic profile, whose potential for genetic research can be met only by study designs that acknowledge cultural tradition and self-identity.

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