From social to genetic structures in central Asia

Curr Biol. 2007 Jan 9;17(1):43-8. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2006.10.058.


Pastoral and farmer populations, who have coexisted in Central Asia since the fourth millennium B.C., present not only different lifestyles and means of subsistence but also various types of social organization. Pastoral populations are organized into so-called descent groups (tribes, clans, and lineages) and practice exogamous marriages (a man chooses a bride in a different lineage or clan). In Central Asia, these descent groups are patrilineal: The children are systematically affiliated with the descent groups of the father. By contrast, farmer populations are organized into families (extended or nuclear) and often establish endogamous marriages with cousins. This study aims at better understanding the impact of these differences in lifestyle and social organization on the shaping of genetic diversity. We show that pastoral populations exhibit a substantial loss of Y chromosome diversity in comparison to farmers but that no such a difference is observed at the mitochondrial-DNA level. Our analyses indicate that the dynamics of patrilineal descent groups, which implies different male and female sociodemographic histories, is responsible for these sexually-asymmetric genetic patterns. This molecular signature of the pastoral social organization disappears over a few centuries only after conversion to an agricultural way of life.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture
  • Asia, Central
  • Asian Continental Ancestry Group / genetics
  • Chromosomes, Human, Y*
  • Cultural Characteristics
  • DNA, Mitochondrial*
  • Female
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Marriage / ethnology*
  • Microsatellite Repeats
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Social Control, Informal*


  • DNA, Mitochondrial