Contrasting maternal and paternal histories in the linguistic context of Burkina Faso

Mol Biol Evol. 2012 Apr;29(4):1213-23. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msr291. Epub 2011 Nov 29.


Burkina Faso is located in the heart of West Africa and is a representative of the local structured patterns of human variability. Here, different cultures and languages are found in a geographic contiguity, as a result of several waves of migration and the succession of long- and short-term empires. However, historical documentation for this area is only partial, focusing predominantly on the recent empires, and linguistic surveys lack the power to fully elucidate the social context of the contact-induced changes. In this paper, we report Y-chromosomal data and complete mtDNA genome sequences for ten populations from Burkina Faso whose languages belong to two very distantly related branches of the Niger-Congo phylum, the Gur and Mande language families. In addition, two further populations, the Mande-speaking Mandenka from Senegal and the Yoruba from Nigeria, were included for regional comparison. We focus on the different historical trajectories undergone by the maternal and paternal lineages. Our results reveal a striking structure in the paternal line, which matches the linguistic affiliation of the ethnolinguistic groups, in contrast to the near-complete homogeneity of the populations in the maternal line. However, while the ancient structure along the linguistic lines is apparent in the Y-chromosomal haplogroup affiliation, this has clearly been overlain by more recent migrations, as shown by significant correlations between the genetic distances based on Y chromosome short tandem repeats and geographic distances between the populations, as well as by the patterns of shared haplotypes. Using the complete mtDNA sequences, we are able to reconstruct population size variation in the past, showing a strong sign of expansion in the concomitance with the Holocene Climate Optimum approximately 12,000-10,000 years ago, which has been suggested as the cause of the spread of the Niger-Congo phylum in the area. However, subsequent climatic fluctuations do not appear to have had an impact on the demography of the inhabitants of West Africa, probably reflecting the adaptive advantages of cultural innovations, such as pastoralism and agriculture.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Burkina Faso
  • Chromosomes, Human, Y / genetics*
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics*
  • Female
  • Genetics, Population / methods
  • Haplotypes / genetics
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Male
  • Phylogeny
  • Phylogeography


  • DNA, Mitochondrial