, Volume 20, Issue 3-4, pp 259-275

Biodemographic and molecular analysis of an isolated Alpine population (Postua)

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Isolated populations have been the object of several genetic and anthropological studies, since endogamy and inbreeding often lead to the acquisition of a particular gene pool.

In this context, we studied the small, ancient population of Postua in the north-western Italian Alps. We used biodemographic and molecular techniques to analyse the population structure in order to evaluate the relationship between geographical and genetic isolation.

We examined about 26,000 certificates kept in the town and parish archives, concerning the period from 1640 to 1999. High rates of endogamy and isonymy, short marriage distances and a low ratio between the number of surnames and the number of individuals were inferred.

In the molecular analysis, we compared the distribution of Y chromosome SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) with those of mitochondrial variations and Y chromosomal microsatellites (short tandem repeat polymorphisms) in 102 healthy individuals originating from Postua. A control sample (94 individuals) was collected from a plain area, 50 km away.

We examined 23 SNPs and an Alu repeat, located in the nonrecombinant portion of the Y chromosome. To further delineate Y chromosome lineages, the biallelic haplogroups were further resolved using Y microsatellite markers (DYS19, DYS391, DYS392, DYS393).

Mitochondrial HVS-I and HVS-II regions were sequenced, and RFLP screening with the six classical enzymes was performed.

Postua is similar to other populations living in northern Italy, but it shows a lower number of haplotypes.

The samples were compared with other European populations. We calculated genetic distances according to Reynold and Nei and we carried out a phylogenetic analysis by phylogenetic trees and reduced median networks construction.

Postua clusters with other samples from northern Italy but in a separate position, probably indicating drift phenomena. These relationships are supported by AMOVA (analysis of molecular variance).

Our results suggest that the influence of neighbouring populations on the gene pool of Postua has been very low through both females and males.