Genetic studies prove Indian Siddis' African link

Our Bureau | | Updated on: Jul 08, 2011


It is known that the Indian Siddis originated from Africa. They were essentially brought by Portugese traders about 300-500 years ago and sold as slaves and soldiers to the Nawabs and Sultans.

However, the first genetic studies have established that they are the direct descendants of the Bantu-speakers of Sub-Saharan region of Africa (countries lying to the south of the great Sahara desert). In India, they are found in Gujarat, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

In its research studies, a team from the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), here and seven Institutions, including the Harvard Medical School, Boston in the US, have established the time of their arrival in India using genetic studies. Interestingly, it coincides with the historical records as well.

Another significant finding is that the Siddis have 10 per cent of the African-specific signatures, which gives them protection against malaria. The Siddis have typical African features, such as dark skin, curly hairs and broad nose.

The CCMB led-global study is the first comprehensive genetic study to establish their African link and to address issues such as their origin, whether they mixed with the neighbouring Indian populations and the medical and social implications of it.

Dr K. Thangaraj of CCMB told newspersons that to answer these questions, “We screened the Siddi populations from Junagarh district of Gujarat and Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka with hundreds of thousands of genetic markers.”

The International team also selected three different sets of markers; Y-chromosome markers, which are paternally inherited; mitochondrial DNA markers, which are maternally inherited; and the autosomal markers, which are inherited from both the parents.

Along with Siddis, they also analysed six populations, who live in their close vicinity.

Susceptible to malaria

The study found that the Indian Siddis had a low protection from malaria compared to the original Africans.

A genetic variant which originated in Africa about 5,000 years ago to protect against malaria was found only in 10 per cent of the Indian Siddis.

The researchers attributed this to the admixture with neighbouring Indian populations.

This admixture has remarkable medical and social implications, said Dr Thangaraj.

The analysis of the data also revealed that the Siddi population have a combination of ancestries (i.e. 70 per cent Africans and 30 per cent Indians and Europeans).

“We further estimated that the Siddis might have admixed with the neighbouring Indian populations for about 200 years (eight generations),” he explained.

Published on July 08, 2011
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