Tamil Genetics: Abstracts and Summaries

by Kevin Alan Brook

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The database contains some people with roots in Sri Lanka and India. See whether you match with them or members of other ethnic groups of Asia. Tamils who have tested their Y-DNA and/or mtDNA lines are welcome to join the company's "Indian subcontinent DNA Project".

Tamils are a people living in southeastern India (especially in the Tamil Nadu region) and in Sri Lanka (known as Ceylon until 1972). The Tamil languages are part of the Dravidian language family and include Betta Kurumba, Eravallan, Irula, Kaikadi, Kanikkaran, Muthuvan, Tamil, and Yerukala. The Tamils proper speak Tamil and their primary religion is Hinduism. Tamil cuisine includes both vegetarian and non-vegetarian food and rice is an essential ingredient.

Tamils and Sinhalese have known each other and lived in proximity for over two thousand years. The Tamil and Sinhalese cultures have notable similarities. Tamils in Sri Lanka intermarried to an extent with the Sinhalese. As a result, modern Sinhalese have partial Tamil ancestry. Flowing in the other direction, genetic data also suggests Sri Lankan Tamils have partial Sinhalese ancestry. The level of their intermixture should not be overstated, however.

Tamils also have some genetics in common with Bengali people living in northeastern India.

Tamil Brahmins – members of the Brahmin (priestly and intellectual) caste – are an endogamous population and have substantial North Indian origins mixed with some South Indian, according to the Harappa DNA Project's autosomal DNA data, as summarized by Razib Khan, who also provides TreeMix plots, here.

27 percent of the Sri Lankan Tamils in the 1000 Genomes Project carry the Y-DNA haplogroup R1a1. This is a significantly higher percentage for R1a1 than Tamils in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu carry. Specifically, out of the project's 15 Sri Lankan Tamil R1a1 carriers, 5 belong to the subclade R1a-Z2123, 5 belong to the subclade R1a-L657, 3 belong to the subclade R1a-Y7, and 2 belong to the subclade R1a-F992.

Major studies of Tamils

Sanghamitra Sengupta, Lev A. Zhivotovsky, Roy King, S. Q. Mehdi, Christopher A. Edmonds, Cheryl-Emiliane Chow, Alice A. Lin, Mitashree Mitra, Samir K. Sil, A. Ramesh, M. V. Usha Rani, Chitra M. Thakur, Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, Partha P. Majumder, and Peter A. Underhill. "Polarity and temporality of high-resolution Y-chromosome distributions in India identify both indigenous and exogenous expansions and reveal minor genetic influence of Central Asian pastoralists." American Journal of Human Genetics 78:2 (February 2006): pages 202-221. First published online on December 16, 2005.
      Among inhabitants of South India, 31 men from the Tamils' Vellalar caste and 29 men from the Tamils' Pallan (Pallar) caste were tested. 38.7% of these Vellalars carried the Y-DNA haplogroup J2-M172.

Lanka Ranaweera, Supannee Kaewsutthi, Aung Win Tun, Hathaichanoke Boonyarit, Samerchai Poolsuwan, and Patcharee Lertrit. "Mitochondrial DNA history of Sri Lankan ethnic people: their relations within the island and with the Indian subcontinental populations." Journal of Human Genetics 59 (2014): pages 28-36. First published online on November 7, 2013.
      This is a comprehensive study of mtDNA haplogroups in 271 unrelated individuals from Sri Lanka and South India comprising the Sinhalese, Tamil, and Vedda peoples. The Tamils were subdivided into Sri Lankan Tamils and Indian Tamils and the Sinhalese were subdivided into the Up-country and Low-country Sinhalese. The Tamils and Sinhalese subgroups all have higher mtDNA haplotype diversity than the Vedda do. Table 1 shows that there are 39 Sri Lankan Tamils and 57 Indian Tamils in this study and that these Sri Lankan Tamils have 33 different haplotypes while the Indian Tamils have 47.
Table 2 tells us all the haplogroups they found.
 • One Sri Lankan Tamil belongs to M33a2. The other haplogroups found among Sri Lankan Tamils are: M, M/N, M2a1, M3, M5a1, M6a, M6b, M18'38, M18a, M30, M34a, M35a, M38a, M66, D4j3, G3a1'2, H, H1ag1a, H2a2a1c, H5, HV4b, R5a2b, R7, R7a'b, U1a'c, U2, U2a, U5a, U7a, T, and P5.
 • The haplogroups possessed by Indian Tamils in this study are: M/N, M2, M2a1, M2a3a, M3c1, M5a1, M5a2a2, M5a4, M6a, M18'38, M18, M18a, M30c1, M33a1b/M35+ 199, M35b+16304, M53, M65b, M66, G3a1'2, N5, R/U, R5a2a, R5a2b, R7a'b, R8a1a3, R30b/R8a1a3, U1a'c, U2a, and P5.

Excerpts from the Abstract:

"[...] The haplotypes and analysis of molecular variance revealed that Vedda people's mitochondrial sequences are more related to the Sinhalese and Sri Lankan Tamils' than the Indian Tamils' sequences. MtDNA haplogroup analysis [on HVS-1 and HVS-2] revealed that several West Eurasian haplogroups as well as Indian-specific mtDNA clades were found amongst the Sri Lankan populations. Through a comparison with the mtDNA HVS-1 and part of HVS-2 of Indian database, both Tamils and Sinhalese clusters were [more] affiliated with Indian subcontinent populations than Vedda people who are believed to be the native population of the island of Sri Lanka."

Excerpts from the body of the paper:

"[...] The majority of Sinhalese and Tamil subgroups form close genetic proximities among themselves on both PC [principal component] axes. [...] It was evident that Up-country Sinhalese are genetically closer to Sri Lankan Tamils. On the other hand, Sri Lankan Tamil subgroups were closer to each other when compared with Indian Tamils. [...] Haplogroup M was the most common haplogroup in Indian Tamils (70.18%), which was contributed mainly by sub-haplogroups M5a (14.03%) and M2a (12.28%). These sub-haplogroups were rarely found in other populations. Up-country Sinhalese, Low-country Sinhalese and Sri Lankan Tamils exhibited similar frequencies of haplogroup M (41.67�43.59%) [...]"

Sarabjit S. Mastana. "Molecular Anthropology: Population and Forensic Genetic Applications." Anthropology Today: Trends, Scope and Applications, Anthropologist Special Volume No. 3 (2007) guest-edited by Veena Bhasin and M. K. Bhasin: Chapter 29 on pages 373-383. Page 380 contains a section with the headline "The Mystery of Sinhalese Origins: An Alu perspective".
      The author conducted an examination of 30 Alu polymorphisms in Sinhalese and compared with Alu frequency data from Tamils and other South Asians to evaluate genetic variation, affinities, and admixtures. According to this, Sinhalese have only a minor contribution from Tamils, since the highest contribution was found to come from Bengalis and northwestern Indians. The Tamil contribution was as low as 11 percent or as high as 30 percent.

S. S. Papiha, Sarabjit S. Mastana, C. A. Purandare, R. Jayasekara, and R. Chakraborty. "Population genetic study of three VNTR loci (D2S44, D7S22, and D12S11) in five ethnically defined populations of the Indian subcontinent." Human Biology 68:5 (October 1996): pages 819-835.
      Contrary to Kshatriya's study, but coinciding with Mastana's study, Sinhalese people were found to be less descended from Tamils than from Bengalis.

Vajira H. W. Dissanayake, Victoria Giles, Rohan W. Jayasekara, Harshalal R. Seneviratne, Noor Kalsheker, Fiona Broughton Pipkin, and Linda Morgan. "A study of three candidate genes for pre-eclampsia in a Sinhalese population from Sri Lanka." The Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Research 35:2 (April 2009): pages 234-242. First published online on November 12, 2008.
      With the assistance of medical specialists, the scientists tested members of three ethnic groups of Sri Lanka (Sinhalese, Sri Lankan Tamils, and Moors) along with white European people from the United Kingdom. They used the genetic samples to compare their allele frequencies and found that the Sri Lankans closely matched each other. Excerpt from the "Results and Discussion" section:

"In all genes haplotype and allele frequencies were comparable within the three Sri Lankan populations, but differed significantly from those in the white Western European population. [...]"

Vajira H. W. Dissanayake, Lakshini Y. Weerasekera, C. Gayani Gammulla, and Rohan W. Jayasekara. "Prevalence of genetic thrombophilic polymorphisms in the Sri Lankan population--implications for association study design and clinical genetic testing services." Experimental and Molecular Pathology 87:2 (October 2009): pages 159-162. First published electronically on July 8, 2009.
      The frequencies of the alleles observed were found to be very similar between Sri Lankan Tamils, Sinhalese, and Moors and they were also similar to those in some ethnic groups from southern India including Indian Tamils. Excerpts from the Abstract:

"We investigated the prevalence of genotypes/alleles of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP) and haplotypes defined by them in three genes in which variations are associated with venous thromboembolism in 80 Sinhalese, 80 Sri Lankan Tamils and 80 Moors in the Sri Lankan population and compared the SNP data with that of other populations in Southern India and haplotype data with that of HapMap populations. [...]"

Ruwan J. Illeperuma, Samudi N. Mohotti, Thilini M. De Silva, Neil D. Fernandopulle, and W. D. Ratnasooriya. "Genetic profile of 11 autosomal STR loci among the four major ethnic groups in Sri Lanka." Forensic Science International: Genetics 3:3 (June 2009): pages e105-e106.
      This study included Tamils from both Sri Lanka and India and compared them with Sinhalese and Sri Lankan Moors. The Tamils were found to be closely related to other Sri Lankans. The researchers found "no significant genetic variation among the major ethnic groups in Sri Lanka".

Mikiko Soejima and Yoshiro Koda. "Denaturing high-performance liquid chromatography-based genotyping and genetic variation of FUT2 in Sri Lanka." Transfusion 45:12 (December 2005): pages 1934-1939.
      Sri Lankan Tamils and Sinhalese were genetically tested to genotype FUT2, a secretor gene using denaturing high-performance liquid chromatography (DHPLC) analysis. Excerpt from the Conclusion:

"[...] the genetic backgrounds of two Sri Lankan populations are quite similar, with little genetic flow from neighboring East and Southeast Asian populations to Sri Lanka."

Mikiko Soejima and Yoshiro Koda. "Population differences of two coding SNPs in pigmentation-related genes SLC24A5 and SLC45A2." International Journal of Legal Medicine 121:1 (January 2007): pages 36-39. First published electronically on July 18, 2006. Excerpts from the Abstract:

"The two genes SLC24A5 and SLC45A2 were recently identified as major determinants of pigmentation in humans and in other vertebrates. The allele p.A111T in the former gene and the allele p.L374F in the latter gene are both nearly fixed in light-skinned Europeans, and can therefore be considered ancestry informative marker (AIMs). [...] Here, we generate new allelic data for these two genes from samples of Chinese, Uygurs, Ghanaians, South African Xhosa, South African Europeans, and Sri Lankans (Tamils and Sinhalese). Our data confirm the earlier results and furthermore demonstrate that the SLC45A2 allele is a more specific AIM than the SLC24A5 allele because the former clearly distinguishes the Sri Lankans from the Europeans."

Gautam K. Kshatriya. "Genetic affinities of Sri Lankan populations." Human Biology 67:6 (December 1995): pages 843-866.
      This study of genetic distance used a series of alleles in multiple populations. Its results showed the Tamils of Sri Lanka to be actually more closely related to the Sinhalese than to their fellow Tamils of India. Sri Lankan Tamils have inherited about 55.20 percent of ancestry from the Sinhalese, plus or minus 9.47 percent. Sinhalese have about 69-70 percent of ancestry from South Indian Tamils. The Sri Lankan Tamils aren't close to Veddahs (an indigenous people of Sri Lanka), Gujaratis, Punjabis, or Bengalis.

N. Saha. "Blood genetic markers in Sri Lankan populations–reappraisal of the legend of Prince Vijaya." American Journal of Physical Anthropology 76:2 (June 1988): pages 217-225.
      This study used older scientific techniques and its results aren't in harmony with more modern studies. The study found that the allelic frequencies in Sri Lankan Tamils weren't distinct from those of Sinhalese.

Major studies of Kallars

R. Spencer Wells, Nadira Yuldasheva, Ruslan Ruzibakiev, Peter A. Underhill, Irina Evseeva, Jason Blue-Smith, Li Jin, Bing Su, Ramasamy Pitchappan, Sadagopal Shanmugalakshmi, Karuppiah Balakrishnan, Mark Read, Nathaniel M. Pearson, Tatiana Zerjal, Matthew T. Webster, Irakli Zholoshvili, Elena Jamarjashvili, Spartak Gambarov, Behrouz Nikbin, Ashur Dostiev, Ogonazar Aknazarov, Pierre Zalloua, Igor Tsoy, Mikhail Kitaev, Mirsaid Mirrakhimov, Ashir Chariev, and Walter F. Bodmer. "The Eurasian Heartland: A continental perspective on Y-chromosome diversity." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 98:18 (2001): pages 10244-10249.
      The Y-DNA haplogroup L-M20 is common in South India. This finding apparently is based on results from a sample of 84 Kallars where 48 percent of them carry the M20 mutation of haplogroup L. The Kallars are a Tamil-speaking warrior caste living in the state of Tamil Nadu.

Major studies of Irula

GaneshPrasad ArunKumar, David F. Soria-Hernanz, Valampuri John Kavitha, Varatharajan Santhakumari Arun, Adhikarla Syama, Kumaran Samy Ashokan, Kavandanpatti Thangaraj Gandhirajan, Koothapuli Vijayakumar, Muthuswamy Narayanan, Mariakuttikan Jayalakshmi, Janet S. Ziegle, Ajay K. Royyuru, Laxmi Parida, R. Spencer Wells, Colin Renfrew, Theodore G. Schurr, Chris Tyler Smith, Daniel E. Platt, Ramasamy Pitchappan, and The Genographic Consortium. "Population Differentiation of Southern Indian Male Lineages Correlates with Agricultural Expansions Predating the Caste System." PLoS ONE (November 28, 2012). Correction published on July 26, 2013 in issue 8:7.
      This study focuses on Y-chromosomal DNA. The "Hill Tribe Forager" (HTF) category consists of foragers whose languages are of the Malayalam and Tamil varieties. The Irula tribal people who live in the the Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala and whose language is a Tamil language written in the Tamil script are one of the groups in the study's HTF category and its sample size of Irula is 80. 16.25% of them belong to the Y-DNA haplogroup L1-M27, 36.25% to F-M89, 18.75% to H-M69, 1.25% to Q-M242, 1.25% to R-M207, 2.50% to R2-M124, 6.25% to C-M130, 7.50% to H1-M52, 8.75% to H2-Apt, and 1.25% to J2-M172, as seen on the accurate version of the tables here and here.

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  • Oxford English-Tamil Dictionary by V. Jayadevan and V. Murugan
  • Tamil-English dictionaries by G.U. Pope, J.P. Fabricius, M. Winslow, Anandam Krishnanmurthi, and others
  • A Classified Collection of Tamil Proverbs by Herman Jensen
  • The Tamils of Sri Lanka by Walter Schwarz
  • The Rough Guide to Sri Lanka by Gavin Thomas
  • Lonely Planet Country Guide: Sri Lanka by Ryan Ver Berkmoes, Stuart Butler, and Amy Karafin

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