Genetic heritage of the Balto-Slavic speaking populations: A synthesis of autosomal, mitochondrial and Y-chromosomal data
The Slavic branch of the Balto-Slavic sub-family of Indo-European languages underwent rapid divergence as a result of the spatial expansion of its speakers from Central-East Europe, in early medieval times. This expansion-mainly to East Europe and the northern Balkans-resulted in the incorporation of genetic components from numerous autochthonous populations into the Slavic gene pools. Here, we characterize genetic variation in all extant ethnic groups speaking Balto-Slavic languages by analyzing mitochondrial DNA (n = 6,876), Y-chromosomes (n = 6,079) and genome-wide SNP profiles (n = 296), within the context of other European populations. We also reassess the phylogeny of Slavic languages within the Balto-Slavic branch of Indo-European. We find that genetic distances among Balto-Slavic populations, based on autosomal and Y-chromosomal loci, show a high correlation (0.9) both with each other and with geography, but a slightly lower correlation (0.7) with mitochondrial DNA and linguistic affiliation. The data suggest that genetic diversity of the present-day Slavs was predominantly shaped in situ, and we detect two different substrata: 'central-east European' for West and East Slavs, and 'south-east European' for South Slavs. A pattern of distribution of segments identical by descent between groups of East-West and South Slavs suggests shared ancestry or a modest gene flow between those two groups, which might derive from the historic spread of Slavic people.