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June Pelo
16-10-03, 19:51
New evidence suggests that, as their distinctive language and blond hair and blue eyes imply, Finns descended from a small band of people who settled in what is now Finland some 4000 years ago.

Scientists have long hypothesized that the Finnish population went through a "genetic bottleneck." The early Finns were separated for centuries from other societies by both geography and climate. And Finns display a pattern of genetic diseases that is different from that in any other European population: For example, they rarely develop cystic fibrosis, but they get some 30 other disorders that are rare or absent elsewhere in the world.

Now geneticist Svante Pääbo at the University of Munich and colleagues have done the genetic analysis to prove the bottleneck theory. The scientists sampled DNA from 54 Finns, 28 Sami - the people thought to predate modern Finns in Finland - and more than 100 other Europeans, studying both the Y chromosome (unique to males) and DNA in mitochondria, subcellular energy-producing bodies that are passed on only by the mother. This dual approach "gives a good thumbnail sketch of the whole (genetic) picture," Pääbo says.

Finns have much less genetic variation than other Europeans and even less than the Sami - who, although relatively few in number, evidently descended from a larger pool of people than did the Finns - in three small regions of the Y chromosome known to have a variety of nucleotide sequences. Finns also showed less diversity in some of their mitochondrial DNA, the team reports in the 15 October "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences."

Finns, because of their limited ancestry, "are a very good population for studying molecular genetics," comments psychiatrist Markku Linnoila at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, who is looking in the Finn genome for genes that may predispose people to alcoholism. Pääbo, meanwhile, says he will next try to backtrack through time to determine how many original Finns there were.

From SCIENCE, 25 Oct 1996

June