Recent studies have examined the influence on patterns of human genetic variation of a variety of cultural practices. In India, centuries-old marriage customs have introduced extensive social structuring into the contemporary population, potentially with significant consequences for genetic variation. Social stratification in India is evident as social classes that are defined by endogamous groups known as castes. Within a caste, there exist endogamous groups known as gols (marriage circles), each of which comprises a small number of exogamous gotra (lineages). Thus, while consanguinity is strictly avoided and some randomness in mate selection occurs within the gol, gene flow is limited with groups outside the gol. Gujarati Patels practice this form of "exogamic endogamy." We have analyzed genetic variation in one such group of Gujarati Patels, the Chha Gaam Patels (CGP), who comprise individuals from six villages. Population structure analysis of 1,200 autosomal loci offers support for the existence of distinctive multilocus genotypes in the CGP with respect to both non-Gujaratis and other Gujaratis, and indicates that CGP individuals are genetically very similar. Analysis of Y-chromosomal and mitochondrial haplotypes provides support for both patrilocal and patrilineal practices within the gol, and a low-level of female gene flow into the gol. Our study illustrates how the practice of gol endogamy has introduced fine-scale genetic structure into the population of India, and contributes more generally to an understanding of the way in which marriage practices affect patterns of genetic variation.
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