What's the matter with Finland?

By Razib Khan | September 23, 2010 1:27 am

450px-Tarja_Halonen_2003I was browsing The European Journal of Human Genetics and I saw this short article from last summer which I missed, NordicDB: a Nordic pool and portal for genome-wide control data. The portal is at http://www.nordicdb.org/database/Home.html. The data itself is for Very Special People, instead of having a simple web form you actually have to download a document and sign a bunch of stuff. The WVS has a web form which takes about 1 minute to fill to get all their data so you can load it in R, as a point of comparison (the GSS makes you register a little more, but I don’t recall that it took too long). Of course this is human genetic data, so way more sensitive, but I thought one of the benefits of socialized medicine was that a lot of the downside risks of having your info in the public record were ameliorated? (I’m kind of being flip here)

There wasn’t anything too new in the paper, but the same old questions cropped up in my head. They basically merged a lot of different medical genetics studies where patients were typed with SNP-chips in Denmark, Sweden and Finland, and put all the info in a common central clearinghouse so you could pool them for analysis. Below is a plot of the genetic variation using MDS, as well as an Fst table.


nord2

nord1

The Bothnia region of Finland has been more impacted by Swedish settlement historically, while much of northern Sweden has also been settled by Finns, or may have assimilated a substantial number of Sami. What I always notice is how Finns tend to be all over the map, and also be at some genetic remove from other Northern Europeans, who are a homogeneous lot.
nord3To left is an MDS that I took out of the supplements of a PLoS One paper from last year. Kuusamo is in the northeast of Finland, on the Russian border. Apparently it was settled by ethnic Finns only in the 18th century. This sort of weird pattern shows up in a lot of these papers. From what I recall the common explanation is that Finns have been through some bottlenecks which have made them a strange folk genetically. The Kuusamo cluster could for example just be due to a founder effect from its recent settlement. I don’t know if I buy this. Perhaps if I see something similar for scions of the Puritan Great Migration. An even older model, derived from historical linguistics in the early 20th century, is that modern Finns, and to a greater extent Sami, are stabilized admixtures of East Eurasian migrants and native Europeans. I’m not sure if I find this plausible at this point, at least in its starkest form. A third model, which barely lean toward (in that my confidence is low and my uncertainty high), but think is possible, is that the “Finnish signal” (look at the line from the Swedes to Kuusamo) is due to the successive dilution of the unique genetic profile of an ancient indigenous Baltic population which has slowly been overwhelmed by people who brought agriculture from the South. In many ways a similar model to the one I reviewed in relation to Gypsies.

I assume we won’t have to wait that long for clarification on these issues. There are Finns in the 1000 Genomes Project (which is now really 2500 genomes I think).

Image Credit: Roosewelt Pinheiro

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Genetics, Genomics
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Comments (24)

  1. Georg

    Ahhh,
    no relation to Hungarians, which are closely related
    linguistically to Finns and Latvians.
    Problem might be, that today Hungaria was
    settleled by people from surround and depopulated
    by war (Mongols, Turks) twice in the 1000 years
    since the original Hungarians setteled around 800.
    The so called Czecklers in Romania are often called
    the only surviving true Hungarians.
    Georg

  2. It’s not surprising that Estonia’s as relatively close to Finland as Sweden, given the language and other connections.

  3. onur

    Finns and Latvians

    You must have said “Finns and Estonians”.

  4. JL

    no relation to Hungarians, which are closely related linguistically to Finns

    Finnish and Hungarian are not closely related languages. They’re probably about as close as English and, say, Persian.

  5. Neil

    The data itself is for Very Special People, instead of having a simple web form you actually have to download a document and sign a bunch of stuff.

    Flippancy aside, this is due to the different treatment of subject confidentiality in Europe vs the US.

    To simplify: in the US, providing one redacts obvious identifiers, like name, date-of-birth, address, social security number, then data can be released to the random public if the realistic threat of subject identification is small. To be more specific, genetic study archives like the NCBI’s dbGaP only allow the storage of data that would not count as “Protected Health Information” under HIPAA, which conveniently omitted to declare genetic data to be a biometric identifier; and whether release of data poses a realistic threat of subject identification, is left in the hands of statisticians, see e.g.:

    http://www.apha.org/membergroups/newsletters/sectionnewsletters/statis/fall05/2121.htm

    By contrast, in Europe, this “anonymous enough” approach is not an option under various EU-wide Data Protection laws, as any sufficient quantity of genetic data acts as an alternative subject identifier regardless of redactions – see e.g.:

    http://www.nature.com/nrd/journal/v3/n9/full/nrd1515.html

    Instead data is released in line with subject consent, which usually involves allowing access to relevant professionals only, through an access committee whose primary role (should be) to confirm that the application falls within the terms of consent.

  6. Georg

    Finnish and Hungarian are not closely related languages. They’re probably about as close as English and, say, Persian.

    So we could start a debate on what is “close”, or whether English is a
    language at all :=)
    Georg

  7. Katharine

    Toss in a few of the Russian Ugric populations and you’d have a reference.

    Regarding the Szekely/Szeklers, that’s what I’ve heard too, and furthermore they don’t tend to intermix with the Romanian populations in Harghita, Covasna, and Mures counties, which is where they cluster most. Although they’re majorities there.

  8. onur

    It is strange that when it comes to Uralic and Altaic languages people very often assume genetic relatedness between speakers of related languages while they don’t assume that – at least not as much as for Uralic and Altaic languages – when it comes to Indo-European languages.

  9. Katharine

    In fact, there’s a pretty good blog about life in the Szekelyfold at http://szekely.blogspot.com by an English dude who lives in Csikszereda/Miercurea Ciuc.

  10. They’re probably about as close as English and, say, Persian.

    no, much further i think. or at least not as certain.

  11. pconroy

    Onur #7

    Good point. Just because two peoples speak related languages, doesn’t mean they are related genetically.
    However I would add, it does usually indicate some genetic connection on the Y, as most widespread language groups are propagated by male migration and assimilation of native mtDNA lineages.
    So for a widely dispersed language, you would expect a potion of commonality on the Y, and differences autosomaly.

  12. Georg

    and furthermore they don’t tend to intermix with the Romanian populations in Harghita, Covasna, and Mures counties, which is where they cluster most. Although they’re majorities there.
    Szeklers are roman catholics presunmably, and
    romanians are orthodox.

    @onur:
    Who assumed that?
    Georg

  13. Szeklers are roman catholics presunmably, and

    the eastern hungarian ppls are as likely to be protestant.

  14. John Emerson

    The oldest Unitarian churches are out in the boonies in Hungary and Romania. They are not much like the nice people you meet at the campus Unitarian fellowship.

  15. Katharine

    There is nothing wrong with Finland.

    Finland, Finland, Finland
    The country where I quite want to be
    Pony-trekking or camping
    Or just watching TV
    Finland, Finland, Finland
    That’s the country for me

    It’s so near to Russia
    So far from Japan
    Quite a long way from Cairo
    Lots of miles from Vietnam

    Finland, Finland, Finland
    The country where I quite want to be
    Its mountains so lofty
    Its treetops so tall
    Finland, Finland, Finland
    Finland has it all

    It’s so sadly neglected
    And often ignored
    A poor second to Belgium
    When going abroad

  16. Katharine

    the eastern hungarian ppls are as likely to be protestant.

    Actually, the Szekely follow other Hungarians in their religious proclivities.

  17. Katharine

    Finnish and Hungarian are not closely related languages. They’re probably about as close as English and, say, Persian.

    Indeed. They share a language family and that’s it.

  18. Katharine

    Now Latvians? They’re not even Uralic.

  19. Katharine

    Another weird cultural minority juxtaposition that deals with the intersection of three groups is the Gagauz in Moldova – Gagauz, Romanian, and Russian.

  20. Actually, the Szekely follow other Hungarians in their religious proclivities.

    yes, the people of eastern greater hungary are disproportionately protestant. transylvanian hungarians, and those in the eastern third of modern hungary are disproportionately protestant, because they were less subject to the counter-reforming pressure of the austrian monarchy (since they were under ottoman vassalage for much of the last 500 years).

  21. I have stumbled across this quite by accident but am intrigued. I am a Brit living in Kuusamo, northern Finland, and would love to have this explained to me. what does it all mean about the people of Kuusamo? Of Finland?

  22. they’re not like other europeans genetically. outliers.

  23. TMJ

    The population history of Kuusamo is well documented and in broad swipes goes like this: In late 17th century, men from Savo in central Finland cleared lands for agriculture and mostly took Saami wifes.
    Kuusamo is only representative in the sense that it allows us to see where an isolated population stemming from two different ethnic backgrounds positions.

    “A third model, which barely lean toward (in that my confidence is low and my uncertainty high), but think is possible, is that the “Finnish signal” (look at the line from the Swedes to Kuusamo) is due to the successive dilution of the unique genetic profile of an ancient indigenous Baltic population which has slowly been overwhelmed by people who brought agriculture from the South.”
    This is without doubt true.

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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 http://www.razib.com

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