Y-Chromosome Haplotypes in Egypt

Brief Communication: Y-Chromosome Haplotypes in Egypt
G. Lucotte* and G. Mercier

We analyzed Y-chromosome haplotypes in the Nile River Valley in Egypt in 274 unrelated males, using the p49a,f TaqI polymorphism. These individuals were born in three regions along the river: in Alexandria (the Delta and Lower Egypt), in Upper Egypt, and in Lower Nubia. Fifteen different p49a,f TaqI haplotypes are present in Egypt, the three most common being haplotype V (39.4%), haplotype XI (18.9%), and haplotype IV (13.9%). Haplotype V is a characteristic Arab haplotype, with a northern geographic distribution in Egypt in the Nile River Valley. Haplotype IV, characteristic of sub- Saharan populations, shows a southern geographic distribution in Egypt. 

Recently, Krings et al. (1999) reported analysis of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) variation in contemporary Nile River Valley populations in Egypt, Nubia, and southern Sudan. The present study concerns a corresponding analysis of the paternal component, characterized by Y-chromosomal haplotypes, in Egypt. their locations in the valley, and in each case their genealogy goes back for several generations of paternally local ancestry. These 274 males included 162 inhabitants of Alexandria and the surrounding region (representating the Delta and Lower Egypt), 66 from Upper Egypt, and 46 from Lower Nubia.

Haplotypes V, XI, and IV are the main Y-chromosome- specific haplotypes in Egyptian males detected in the present study. Haplotype V (E3b1b, I should think) is characteristic of Arab and Berber populations of North Africa (Lucotte et al., 2000), where it defines a major similarity among coastal populations in a one-dimensional pattern: the frequency of haplotype V is 53.4% in Tunisia, 56.7% in Algeria, and 57.9% in Morocco, reaching 68.9% among Moroccan Berbers where it is in the wide majority; the frequency of haplotype V is 44.7% in Libya, and was established to be 40.4% in a previously studied population of 52 males originating from the northern part of Egypt (Lucotte et al., 2000). Haplotype XI (E3b1 probably) is one of the three most important haplotypes found in Ethiopia (Passarino et al., 1998; Lucotte and Smets, 1999), where it attains 25.9% in frequency. Haplotype IV is characteristic of sub-Saharan populations in Africa (Torroni et al., 1990; Spurdle and Jenkins, 1992), where its geographical distribution can be an indication of Bantu expansion: for example, in Central Africa (Lucotte et al., 1994), the frequency of haplotype IV is 55.2% in Cameroon, and reaches 80.3% in Zaı¨re and up to 83.9% in the Central African Republic.

As for mtDNA (Krings et al., 1999), the present study on the Y-chromosome haplotype shows that there are northern and southern Y-haplotypes in Egypt. The main Y-haplotype V is a northern haplotype, with a significantly different frequency in the north compared to the south of the country: frequencies of haplotype V are 51.9% in the Delta (location A), 24.2% in Upper Egypt (location B), and 17.4% in Lower Nubia (location C). On the other hand, haplotype IV is a typical southern haplotype, being almost absent in A (1.2%), and preponderant in B (27.3%) and C (39.1%). Haplotype XI also shows a preponderance in the south (in C, 30.4%; B, 28.8%) compared to the north (11.7% in A) of the country. In mtDNA, sequences of the first hypervariable HpaI site at position 3592 allowed Krings et al. (1999) to designate each mtDNA as being of northern or southern affiliation, and proportions of northern and southern mtDNA differed  significantly between Egypt, Nubia, and the Southern Sudan.

It is interesting to relate this peculiar north/south differentiation, a pattern of genetic variation deriving from the two uniparentally inherited genetic systems (mtDNA and Y chromosome), to specific historic events. Since the beginning of Egyptian history (3200–3100 B.C.), the legendary king Menes united Upper and Lower Egypt. Migration from north to south may coincide with the Pharaonic colonization of Nubia, which occurred initially during the Middle Kingdom (12th Dynasty, 1991–1785 B.C.), and more permanently during the New Kingdom, from the reign of Thotmosis III (1490–1437 B.C.). The main migration from south to north may coincide with the 25th Dynasty (730–655 B.C.), when kings from Napata (in Nubia) conquered Egypt.

Numerous postdynastic population influences, corresponding to additional migrations documented during the Ptolemic (300–200 B.C.)—Alexandria being a Macedonian city—Roman (since Egyptian annexation by Augustus), and later Arabic, Mameluk, and Ottoman times, are also likely to have contributed in a complex fashion to the current distribution of Y-chromosome haplotypes along the Nile River Valley. Concerning less frequent Y-haplotypes in Egypt, haplotype VIII is characteristic of Semitic populations, originating in the Near East (Lucotte et al., 1993). For example (Lucotte et al., 1996), the frequency of haplotype VIII is 26.2% among North African Jews (where it represents the majority haplotype) and 77.5% among Jews from the island of Djerba (Tunisia), reaching 85.1% among Oriental (from Iraq, Iran, and Syria) Jews. Similarly, haplotype VII had a general geographical distribution fairly identical to that of haplotype VIII (which it often accompanies as a secondary haplotype); haplotype VII distinguishes itself by increased preponderance north of the Mediterranean and in Eastern Europe (Lucotte et al., 1996). Haplotype XV is the most widespread Y-haplotype in Western Europe (Lucotte and Hazout, 1996), where its frequency decreases from west to east (Semino et al., 1996; Lucotte and Loirat, 1999). Haplotypes VIII, VII, and XV are less common haplotypes in Egypt (7.3%, 6.6%, and 5.5%, respectively), and tend to be located in the north of the country, near the Mediterranean coast. Possibly haplotypes VIII, VII, and XV represent, respectively, Near East, Greek, and Roman influences.

Just one quibble with this about hg XV, which would be R1b from it’s description. This is pretty widespread in Africa right down into Cameroon and the Sudan, so assigning all XV as a result of the Greco Roman era is probably a mistake. It should be remembered also that the C group is in what was once Nubia, not ancient Egypt.

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