Finns as European outliers

By Razib Khan | October 24, 2008 3:33 pm

Dienekes points to another paper on European population substructure, Genome-Wide Analysis of Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms Uncovers Population Structure in Northern Europe:

In this study, we analysed almost 250,000 SNPs from a total of 945 samples from Eastern and Western Finland, Sweden, Northern Germany and Great Britain complemented with HapMap data. Small but statistically significant differences were observed between the European populations…The latter indicated the existence of a relatively strong autosomal substructure within the country, similar to that observed earlier with smaller numbers of markers. The Germans and British were less differentiated than the Swedes, Western Finns and especially the Eastern Finns who also showed other signs of genetic drift. This is likely caused by the later founding of the northern populations, together with subsequent founder and bottleneck effects, and a smaller population size. Furthermore, our data suggest a small eastern contribution among the Finns, consistent with the historical and linguistic background of the population.

FinnsAreAsian1.jpgThe figure to the left (adapted from figure 2) is a chart showing the three largest components of variation within the genetic data. Nothing is very surprising here, the eastern Finns are more distant from other Europeans than the western Finns; a prediction one would make from plain geography. As the authors note, there are plenty of “common sense” reasons why you see the particular patterns discernible. Fenno-Scandinavia was settled from the south within the last 10,000 years, so founder effects would be more operative among these populations (this trend exists on a pan-European scale from south to north). Additionally, the ecological context of northern Europe tends to result low populations, which increase the power of genetic drift to fix rare variants. Finland in particular is marginally arable, while even Sweden exhibited a relatively late adoption of agriculture. Migration is a population genetic parameter which works against drift to reduce between population barriers, but water barriers are often extremely effective in reducing gene flow from deme to deme. Though it is notable that the British samples are so close to Germans; I think the authors are right to point to the likely historical origins of the Finnic peoples as explaining the distinctiveness as much as geography or ecology.
The figure below (adapted from supplemental figure 3) shows the relationship between European populations and non-European HapMap populations. No surprise that Europeans cluster together, but again, the eastern Finns are where you would expect them to be.
Related: European population substructure, European population substructure again, Population substructure in Japan, Genetic map of Europe; genes vary as a function of distance, The Genetic Map of Europe and The genetics of Fenno-Scandinavia.

  • Paholaisen asianajaja

    What can I say? We like to have some space between us and… the world.

  • razib

    …no one’s complaining….

  • Bob O’H

    This goes a long way to explaining why the Swedish-speaking TV in Finland is called FST.

  • Yroger S

    Interesting, I thought the Finns would be closer to the Chinese, compared to other Europeans?

  • Phil

    I am not surprised that the British and Germans are so closely related. I think that’s one of the reasons the Germans assimilated into the historic British stock in the US so easily and don’t really exist as a separate group anymore.

  • razib

    Interesting, I thought the Finns would be closer to the Chinese, compared to other Europeans?
    they are closer, compared to other europeans. just not that close at all.
    I am not surprised that the British and Germans are so closely related. I think that’s one of the reasons the Germans assimilated into the historic British stock in the US so easily and don’t really exist as a separate group anymore.
    the second sentence is basically wrong on both counts. additionally, the irish are closer to the anglo-saxon stock, and i think one would say there were “issues” with their assimilation. so i have pretty much zero confidence in the plausibility of genetic relatedness arguments on this fine grained of a scale. as for the germans, i’m not going to go into the details as people should just read american history books, but a lot of the issues had to do with religion just as it did with the irish, on the order of half of the germans were catholic. ironically, in the late 19th century it was the irish american hierarchy which basically defeated the german catholic attempt to perpetuate the german speaking catholic school system in the USA (the irish wanted them to use english). anyone who knows the history of this dynamic between 1850-1900 wouldn’t say anything like the above (here is a good history which highlights the intracatholic irish-german conflict).

  • John Emerson

    The Wanderer, a conservative Catholic newspaper still published today, is a relic of the German-Irish battle for control of the American Catholic Church. It’s been published by the same family for 141 years. After Vatican II there was a split, producing an even more conservative newspaper, The Remnant, also published by members of the Matt family.
    Large areas of the Midwest are very consciously German. There’s even a statue of Arminius, the German who stopped the Roman Empire at the Rhine, in New Ulm Minnesota.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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