Distinguishing human ethnic groups by means of sequences from Helicobacter pylori: lessons from Ladakh

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2004 Apr 6;101(14):4746-51. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0306629101. Epub 2004 Mar 29.


The history of mankind remains one of the most challenging fields of study. However, the emergence of anatomically modern humans has been so recent that only a few genetically informative polymorphisms have accumulated. Here, we show that DNA sequences from Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium that colonizes the stomachs of most humans and is usually transmitted within families, can distinguish between closely related human populations and are superior in this respect to classical human genetic markers. H. pylori from Buddhists and Muslims, the two major ethnic communities in Ladakh (India), differ in their population-genetic structure. Moreover, the prokaryotic diversity is consistent with the Buddhists having arisen from an introgression of Tibetan speakers into an ancient Ladakhi population. H. pylori from Muslims contain a much stronger ancestral Ladakhi component, except for several isolates with an Indo-European signature, probably reflecting genetic flux from the Near East. These signatures in H. pylori sequences are congruent with the recent history of population movements in Ladakh, whereas similar signatures in human microsatellites or mtDNA were only marginally significant. H. pylori sequence analysis has the potential to become an important tool for unraveling short-term genetic changes in human populations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics
  • Ethnicity*
  • Genetic Markers
  • Helicobacter pylori / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Microsatellite Repeats
  • Phylogeny


  • DNA, Bacterial
  • DNA, Mitochondrial
  • Genetic Markers