, Volume 117, Issue 5, pp 428-443

Significant genetic differentiation between Poland and Germany follows present-day political borders, as revealed by Y-chromosome analysis

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Abstract

To test for human population substructure and to investigate human population history we have analysed Y-chromosome diversity using seven microsatellites (Y-STRs) and ten binary markers (Y-SNPs) in samples from eight regionally distributed populations from Poland (n=913) and 11 from Germany (n=1,215). Based on data from both Y-chromosome marker systems, which we found to be highly correlated (r=0.96), and using spatial analysis of the molecular variance (SAMOVA), we revealed statistically significant support for two groups of populations: (1) all Polish populations and (2) all German populations. By means of analysis of the molecular variance (AMOVA) we observed a large and statistically significant proportion of 14% (for Y-SNPs) and 15% (for Y-STRs) of the respective total genetic variation being explained between both countries. The same population differentiation was detected using Monmonier’s algorithm, with a resulting genetic border between Poland and Germany that closely resembles the course of the political border between both countries. The observed genetic differentiation was mainly, but not exclusively, due to the frequency distribution of two Y-SNP haplogroups and their associated Y-STR haplotypes: R1a1*, most frequent in Poland, and R1*(xR1a1), most frequent in Germany. We suggest here that the pronounced population differentiation between the two geographically neighbouring countries, Poland and Germany, is the consequence of very recent events in human population history, namely the forced human resettlement of many millions of Germans and Poles during and, especially, shortly after World War II. In addition, our findings have consequences for the forensic application of Y-chromosome markers, strongly supporting the implementation of population substructure into forensic Y chromosome databases, and also for genetic association studies.