La Réunion, one of the three Mascarene islands located in the Indian Ocean, remained devoid of inhabitants until it was first colonized by the French in the middle of the 17th century. The continuous flow of foreign-born slaves and immigrant workers from Africa, India, Southeast Asia, and China to work on coffee and sugar cane plantations led to the island becoming a melting pot of people of multiple ethnic origins. To establish the impact of the different incoming ethnic groups on the present Reunionese gene pool, we have sequenced both hypervariable regions I and II of the mitochondrial DNA molecule, the 9 bp COII/tRNA(Lys) deletion, and four SNPs located in the coding region in a total of 41 samples of the general population, and a further 18 STRs and 35 SNPs on the Y chromosome in 26 of these samples. Our results show that there was a strong sexual bias (asymmetrical gene flow) in the peopling of La Réunion, where admixture events were mainly between male settlers and females from the incoming slave groups. Most of the Y-chromosome gene pool is of European/Middle Eastern ancestry (85%), whereas the mtDNA gene pool is mainly of Indian and East Asian ancestry (70%). The absence of genetic diversity within these two major components of the mtDNA gene pool suggests these populations may have witnessed strong founder effects during the colonization process.
(c) 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.