Sequences from first settlers reveal rapid evolution in Icelandic mtDNA pool

Agnar Helgason*, Carles Lalueza-Fox, Shyamali Ghosh, Sigrún Sigurdardóttir, Maria Lourdes Sampietro, Elena Gigli, Adam Baker, Jaume Bertranpetit, Lilja Árnadóttir, Unnur Porsteinsdottir, Kári Stefánsson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)


A major task in human genetics is to understand the nature of the evolutionary processes that have shaped the gene pools of contemporary populations. Ancient DNA studies have great potential to shed light on the evolution of populations because they provide the opportunity to sample from the same population at different points in time. Here, we show that a sample of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) control region sequences from 68 early medieval Icelandic skeletal remains is more closely related to sequences from contemporary inhabitants of Scotland, Ireland, and Scandinavia than to those from the modern Icelandic population. Due to a faster rate of genetic drift in the Icelandic mtDNA pool during the last 1,100 years, the sequences carried by the first settlers were better preserved in their ancestral gene pools than among their descendants in Iceland. These results demonstrate the inferential power gained in ancient DNA studies through the application of population genetics analyses to relatively large samples.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1000343
JournalPLoS Genetics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2009


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