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Title: Small Traditional Human Communities Sustain Genomic Diversity over Microgeographic Scales despite Linguistic Isolation
Authors: Cox, Murray P.
Hudjashov, Georgi
Sim, Andre
Savina, Olga
Karafet, Tatiana M.
Sudoyo, Herawati
Lansing, John Stephen
Keywords: Genetic Diversity
Linguistic Diversity
Issue Date: 2016
Source: Cox, M. P., Hudjashov, G., Sim, A., Savina, O., Karafet, T. M., Sudoyo, H., et al. (2016). Small Traditional Human Communities Sustain Genomic Diversity over Microgeographic Scales despite Linguistic Isolation. Molecular Biology and Evolution, 33(9), 2273-2284.
Series/Report no.: Molecular Biology and Evolution
Abstract: At least since the Neolithic, humans have largely lived in networks of small, traditional communities. Often socially isolated, these groups evolved distinct languages and cultures over microgeographic scales of just tens of kilometers. Population genetic theory tells us that genetic drift should act quickly in such isolated groups, thus raising the question: do networks of small human communities maintain levels of genetic diversity over microgeographic scales? This question can no longer be asked in most parts of the world, which have been heavily impacted by historical events that make traditional society structures the exception. However, such studies remain possible in parts of Island Southeast Asia and Oceania, where traditional ways of life are still practiced. We captured genome-wide genetic data, together with linguistic records, for a case–study system—eight villages distributed across Sumba, a small, remote island in eastern Indonesia. More than 4,000 years after these communities were established during the Neolithic period, most speak different languages and can be distinguished genetically. Yet their nuclear diversity is not reduced, instead being comparable to other, even much larger, regional groups. Modeling reveals a separation of time scales: while languages and culture can evolve quickly, creating social barriers, sporadic migration averaged over many generations is sufficient to keep villages linked genetically. This loosely-connected network structure, once the global norm and still extant on Sumba today, provides a living proxy to explore fine-scale genome dynamics in the sort of small traditional communities within which the most recent episodes of human evolution occurred.
ISSN: 0737-4038
DOI: 10.1093/molbev/msw099
Rights: © 2016 The Author. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. For commercial re-use, please contact
Fulltext Permission: open
Fulltext Availability: With Fulltext
Appears in Collections:EOS Journal Articles

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