Original Article | Published:

Mitochondrial DNA history of Sri Lankan ethnic people: their relations within the island and with the Indian subcontinental populations

Journal of Human Genetics volume 59, pages 2836 (2014) | Download Citation


Located only a short distance off the southernmost shore of the Greater Indian subcontinent, the island of Sri Lanka has long been inhabited by various ethnic populations. Mainly comprising the Vedda, Sinhalese (Up- and Low-country) and Tamil (Sri Lankan and Indian); their history of settlements on the island and the biological relationships among them have remained obscure. It has been hypothesized that the Vedda was probably the earliest inhabitants of the area, followed by Sinhalese and Tamil from the Indian mainland. This study, in which 271 individuals, representing the Sri Lankan ethnic populations mentioned, were typed for their mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) hypervariable segment 1 (HVS-1) and part of hypervariable segment 2 (HVS-2), provides implications for their settlement history on the island. From the phylogenetic, principal coordinate and analysis of molecular variance results, the Vedda occupied a position separated from all other ethnic people of the island, who formed relatively close affiliations among themselves, suggesting a separate origin of the former. 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 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 affiliated with Indian subcontinent populations than Vedda people who are believed to be the native population of the island of Sri Lanka.

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We are grateful to all the people who have donated their hair samples for making this study possible. We would like to thank Dr Upeksha Samaraweerachchi, Deepal Edirisinghe, Nirmala Ranaweera, Dayarathna Ranaweera, Sanjeewa Jayakody, G.G. Sirisena, U.S. Yapa, K. Sanath, Achala Chandradasa, T. Kumarasiri, M. Pushpawathi, Nimesha Palliyaguruge and H. Ranaweera for their excellent help in the field trips. Our special thanks extended to Professor Dr Senake Bandaranayake, Associate Professor Dr Suraphan Na Bangchang and Dr Bhoom Suktitipat and the three anonymous reviewers for their critical comments of the manuscript and their constructive discussions, to Dr Russell Thomson for the proof-reading of this manuscript and to Professor Drs Hans Jurgen Bandelt and Walther Parson for their valuable comments on the dataset validation. We also thank scholars who kindly provided their published mtDNA HVS-1 sequences. This work was partly supported by Siriraj Graduate Thesis Scholarship, Faculty of Medicine Siriraj Hospital Mahidol University, Thailand to LR. PL is supported by ‘Chalermphrakiat’ Grant, Faculty of Medicine Siriraj Hospital, Mahidol University, Thailand.

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Author notes

    • Lanka Ranaweera
    •  & Supannee Kaewsutthi

    These authors contributed equally to this work.


  1. Department of Biochemistry, Faculty of Medicine Siriraj Hospital, Mahidol University, Bangkok, Thailand

    • Lanka Ranaweera
    • , Supannee Kaewsutthi
    • , Aung Win Tun
    • , Hathaichanoke Boonyarit
    •  & Patcharee Lertrit
  2. Faculty of Sociology and Anthropology, Thammasat University, PraChan, Bangkok, Thailand

    • Samerchai Poolsuwan


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Correspondence to Patcharee Lertrit.

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Supplementary Information accompanies the paper on Journal of Human Genetics website (http://www.nature.com/jhg)