The admixture structure and genetic variation of the archipelago of Cape Verde and its implications for admixture mapping studies

PLoS One. 2012;7(11):e51103. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0051103. Epub 2012 Nov 30.


Recently admixed populations offer unique opportunities for studying human history and for elucidating the genetic basis of complex traits that differ in prevalence between human populations. Historical records, classical protein markers, and preliminary genetic data indicate that the Cape Verde islands in West Africa are highly admixed and primarily descended from European males and African females. However, little is known about the variation in admixture levels, admixture dynamics and genetic diversity across the islands, or about the potential of Cape Verde for admixture mapping studies. We have performed a detailed analysis of phenotypic and genetic variation in Cape Verde based on objective skin color measurements, socio-economic status (SES) evaluations and data for 50 autosomal, 34 X-chromosome, and 21 non-recombinant Y-chromosome (NRY) markers in 845 individuals from six islands of the archipelago. We find extensive genetic admixture between European and African ancestral populations (mean West African ancestry = 0.57, sd = 0.08), with individual African ancestry proportions varying considerably among the islands. African ancestry proportions calculated with X and Y-chromosome markers confirm that the pattern of admixture has been sex-biased. The high-resolution NRY-STRs reveal additional patterns of variation among the islands that are most consistent with differentiation after admixture. The differences in the autosomal admixture proportions are clearly evident in the skin color distribution across the islands (Pearson r = 0.54, P-value<2e-16). Despite this strong correlation, there are significant interactions between SES and skin color that are independent of the relationship between skin color and genetic ancestry. The observed distributions of admixture, genetic variation and skin color and the relationship of skin color with SES relate to historical and social events taking place during the settlement history of Cape Verde, and have implications for the design of association studies using this population.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cabo Verde
  • Chromosomes, Human, Y / genetics
  • Female
  • Gene Pool*
  • Genealogy and Heraldry
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Genetics, Population
  • Geography
  • Haplotypes / genetics
  • Humans
  • Islands*
  • Male
  • Microsatellite Repeats / genetics
  • Phylogeny
  • Regression Analysis
  • Skin Pigmentation / genetics

Grant support

This work was supported by the Portuguese Institution “Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia” (FCT; PTDC/BIA-BDE/64044/2006). SB was supported by FCT (SFRH/BPD/21887/2005). JL was supported by a Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation fellowship. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.