Background: The genetic origins of Uralic speakers from across a vast territory in the temperate zone of North Eurasia have remained elusive. Previous studies have shown contrasting proportions of Eastern and Western Eurasian ancestry in their mitochondrial and Y chromosomal gene pools. While the maternal lineages reflect by and large the geographic background of a given Uralic-speaking population, the frequency of Y chromosomes of Eastern Eurasian origin is distinctively high among European Uralic speakers. The autosomal variation of Uralic speakers, however, has not yet been studied comprehensively.
Results: Here, we present a genome-wide analysis of 15 Uralic-speaking populations which cover all main groups of the linguistic family. We show that contemporary Uralic speakers are genetically very similar to their local geographical neighbours. However, when studying relationships among geographically distant populations, we find that most of the Uralic speakers and some of their neighbours share a genetic component of possibly Siberian origin. Additionally, we show that most Uralic speakers share significantly more genomic segments identity-by-descent with each other than with geographically equidistant speakers of other languages. We find that correlated genome-wide genetic and lexical distances among Uralic speakers suggest co-dispersion of genes and languages. Yet, we do not find long-range genetic ties between Estonians and Hungarians with their linguistic sisters that would distinguish them from their non-Uralic-speaking neighbours.
Conclusions: We show that most Uralic speakers share a distinct ancestry component of likely Siberian origin, which suggests that the spread of Uralic languages involved at least some demic component.
Keywords: Genome-wide analysis; Haplotype analysis; IBD-segments; Population genetics; Uralic languages.