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. 2009 Jan;5(1):e1000343.
doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1000343. Epub 2009 Jan 16.

Sequences From First Settlers Reveal Rapid Evolution in Icelandic mtDNA Pool

Free PMC article

Sequences From First Settlers Reveal Rapid Evolution in Icelandic mtDNA Pool

Agnar Helgason et al. PLoS Genet. .
Free PMC article


A major task in human genetics is to understand the nature of the evolutionary processes that have shaped the gene pools of contemporary populations. Ancient DNA studies have great potential to shed light on the evolution of populations because they provide the opportunity to sample from the same population at different points in time. Here, we show that a sample of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) control region sequences from 68 early medieval Icelandic skeletal remains is more closely related to sequences from contemporary inhabitants of Scotland, Ireland, and Scandinavia than to those from the modern Icelandic population. Due to a faster rate of genetic drift in the Icelandic mtDNA pool during the last 1,100 years, the sequences carried by the first settlers were better preserved in their ancestral gene pools than among their descendants in Iceland. These results demonstrate the inferential power gained in ancient DNA studies through the application of population genetics analyses to relatively large samples.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.


Figure 1
Figure 1. A schematic representation of Iceland's population history.
The circles represent the gene pools of the Scottish and Irish, Icelandic and Scandinavian population groups at different points in time. Circle diameter broadly reflects the relative population sizes. The vertical arrows represent the transmission of DNA between generations within populations, while the diagonal arrows represent the settlement of Iceland from 870 to 930 AD from Scotland, Ireland and Scandinavia.
Figure 2
Figure 2. The geographical distribution of sampled skeletal remains in Iceland.
The figure shows a map of Iceland, with the locations of 67 excavation sites represented by red dots. The code names of 95 skeletal remains are shown next to the sites from which they were retrieved.

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    1. Kong A, Gudbjartsson DF, Sainz J, Jonsdottir GM, Gudjonsson SA, et al. A high-resolution recombination map of the human genome. Nat Genet. 2002;31:241–247. - PubMed

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