Genetics: the unique Inuit of the world

If the Inuit of Nunavik share their culture with other Inuit in the world, their genes are a different story, according to a McGill University study released Monday. The analysis of the genome of 170 Inuit in Qu├ębec’s Far North suggests that they are genetically distinct from the Inuit of Greenland, forming a unique group in the world in this respect.
“Our results show that Nunavik Inuit are a very homogeneous population. […] With the exception of a few recent cases of mixing with Europeans, the Inuit of Nunavik share almost no ancestors with other contemporary populations and are distinct from the other native populations of the Arctic, including the Inuit of Greenland. in the article just published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Led by McGill researchers Sirui Zhou and Guy Rouleau, the research consisted of reading the genome of 170 Inuit of Nunavik and comparing it to that of other Arctic populations.

In general, the so-called “Inuit” of today are the descendants of the “Thule”, whale hunters originally from Alaska who began swarming throughout the Far North about 1000 years ago, and who went to Greenland. In doing so, they completely replaced a population that was already present, the “Dorset”, who hunted small marine mammals, but not whales, and are now extinct. The Thule people migrated in successive waves and their arrival in northern Quebec dates back 700 to 800 years, according to the Avataq Cultural Institute .

However, Mr. Rouleau and his team found that even though their culture is the same, the Inuit of Nunavik are much less related than genetically speaking to other Inuit in the world. It is the Inuit of Greenland and the Siberian Yupiks who are their closest relatives, but the kinship relationship goes back more than 10,000 years.

In fact, they are closer to the “Paleo-Eskimos” (Dorset and others before them) than Thule, according to McGill’s press release . The PNAS article is silent on what may have happened, and it was not possible to talk to Mr. Rouleau at the time of writing, but one can imagine that the Dorset of Quebec did not were not replaced by the Thule, but rather assimilated.

In any case, the researchers have also identified genetic variants among Nunavik Inuit that suggest adaptation to a high-fat diet – the other Inuit populations in the world also show the same kind of adaptation. Those in Quebec, however, show other genetic variants that make them more vulnerable to intracranial aneurysms, a deformation of arteries of the brain that can have very serious consequences.

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