We have analysed genetic variation at 23 microsatellite loci in a global sample of 16 ethnically and geographically diverse human populations. On the basis of their ancestral heritage and geographic locations, the studied populations can be divided into five major groups, viz. African, Caucasian, Asian Mongoloid, American Indian and Pacific Islander. With respect to the distribution of alleles at the 23 loci, large variability exists among the examined populations. However, with the exception of the American Indians and the Pacific Islanders, populations within a continental group show a greater degree of similarity. Phylogenetic analyses based on allele frequencies at the examined loci show that the first split of the present-day human populations had occurred between the Africans and all of the non-African populations, lending support to an African origin of modern human populations. Gene diversity analyses show that the coefficient of gene diversity estimated from the 23 loci is, in general, larger for populations that have remained isolated and probably of smaller effective sizes, such as the American Indians and the Pacific Islanders. These analyses also demonstrate that the component of total gene diversity, which is attributed to variation between groups of populations, is significantly larger than that among populations within each group. The empirical data presented in this work and their analyses reaffirm that evolutionary histories and the extent of genetic variation among human populations can be studied using microsatellite loci.
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