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The Genetic Legacy of Zoroastrianism in Iran and India: Insights into Population Structure, Gene Flow, and Selection

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Saioa López, Mark G. Thomas, Lucy van Dorp, Naser Ansari-Pour, Sarah Stewart, Abigail L. Jones, Erik Jelinek, Lounès Chikhi, Tudor Parfitt, Neil Bradman, Michael E. Weale, Garrett Hellenthal

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)353-368
JournalAmerican Journal of Human Genetics
Volume101
Issue number3
Early online date24 Aug 2017
DOIs
Accepted/In press24 Jul 2017
E-pub ahead of print24 Aug 2017
Published7 Sep 2017

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Abstract

Zoroastrianism is one of the oldest extant religions in the world, originating in Persia (present-day Iran) during the second millennium BCE. Historical records indicate that migrants from Persia brought Zoroastrianism to India, but there is debate over the timing of these migrations. Here we present genome-wide autosomal, Y chromosome, and mitochondrial DNA data from Iranian and Indian Zoroastrians and neighboring modern-day Indian and Iranian populations and conduct a comprehensive genome-wide genetic analysis in these groups. Using powerful haplotype-based techniques, we find that Zoroastrians in Iran and India have increased genetic homogeneity relative to other sampled groups in their respective countries, consistent with their current practices of endogamy. Despite this, we infer that Indian Zoroastrians (Parsis) intermixed with local groups sometime after their arrival in India, dating this mixture to 690–1390 CE and providing strong evidence that Iranian Zoroastrian ancestry was maintained primarily through the male line. By making use of the rich information in DNA from ancient human remains, we also highlight admixture in the ancestors of Iranian Zoroastrians dated to 570 BCE–746 CE, older than admixture seen in any other sampled Iranian group, consistent with a long-standing isolation of Zoroastrians from outside groups. Finally, we report results, and challenges, from a genome-wide scan to identify genomic regions showing signatures of positive selection in present-day Zoroastrians that might correlate to the prevalence of particular diseases among these communities.

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