Genetic History of Xinjiang's Uyghurs Suggests Bronze Age Multiple-Way Contacts in Eurasia

Mol Biol Evol. 2017 Oct 1;34(10):2572-2582. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msx177.


The Uyghur people residing in Xinjiang, a territory located in the far west of China and crossed by the Silk Road, are a key ethnic group for understanding the history of human dispersion in Eurasia. Here we assessed the genetic structure and ancestry of 951 Xinjiang's Uyghurs (XJU) representing 14 geographical subpopulations. We observed a southwest and northeast differentiation within XJU, which was likely shaped jointly by the Tianshan Mountains, which traverses from east to west as a natural barrier, and gene flow from both east and west directions. In XJU, we identified four major ancestral components that were potentially derived from two earlier admixed groups: one from the West, harboring European (25-37%) and South Asian ancestries (12-20%), and the other from the East, with Siberian (15-17%) and East Asian (29-47%) ancestries. By using a newly developed method, MultiWaver, the complex admixture history of XJU was modeled as a two-wave admixture. An ancient wave was dated back to ∼3,750 years ago (ya), which is much earlier than that estimated by previous studies, but fits within the range of dating of mummies that exhibited European features that were discovered in the Tarim basin, which is situated in southern Xinjiang (4,000-2,000 ya); a more recent wave occurred around 750 ya, which is in agreement with the estimate from a recent study using other methods. We unveiled a more complex scenario of ancestral origins and admixture history in XJU than previously reported, which further suggests Bronze Age massive migrations in Eurasia and East-West contacts across the Silk Road.

Keywords: Eurasia; SNP; Uyghurs; Xinjiang; genetic admixture; population structure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Asian Continental Ancestry Group / genetics*
  • China / ethnology
  • Ethnic Groups / genetics*
  • European Continental Ancestry Group / genetics
  • Gene Flow
  • Genetics, Population / methods*
  • Geography
  • Haplotypes / genetics
  • Humans
  • Phylogeography
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide / genetics