Why is the North Dakota Genetic Ancestry important?
As one looks at the U.S. and North Dakota history, it is not an exaggeration to say that “immigrants were American history” (Handlin, 2002) and “the story of ethnic groups in North Dakota is the story of North Dakota” (Sherman et al., 1988). The genetic record of numerous ethnic groups is also a part of the American history.
Over forty different national groups of European immigrants live in North Dakota today. According to the U.S. Census 2000 (www.census.gov), these people make up 92.4% of the North Dakota population and came from across the entire Europe. The main ethnic groups of European immigrants include (1) the people of the Anglo-Scots-Irish-Old American stock, (2) Scandinavians, (3) Germans, and (4) the Slavic people (Sherman et al., 1988). For all these ethnic groups, the population structure and genetic variation of their source populations in Europe are well studied. The presence of population structure was even established for the ethnic groups in Europe that were considered homogenous, e.g. Icelandic (Helgason et al., 2005). However, the extent to which the immigration from the Old World to North America, followed by several generations of intermarriage and interbreeding between immigrants, changed the original genetic structure in the European-diaspora populations in the U.S. overall and in particular states remains largely unknown.
The entire population of North Dakota will benefit from this research due to the generation of new knowledge about the history of local communities and immigration to North Dakota as well as about the distribution of DNA polymorphic markers in the state. The history and cultural heritage of different ethnic groups living in North Dakota is described well (Sherman et al., 1988). However, the genetic background of these groups and the changes of genetic structure since the time of their immigration from Europe are unknown. This project represents the first insight into the genetic diversity and population stratification of the ethnic groups of European ancestry in North Dakota.
This project will provide benefits for North Dakota residents at least in two areas. First, the project will provide opportunity to compare the genetic, historical and genealogical records of different ethnic groups who migrated from Europe to North Dakota over the last two centuries. Second, the project will accumulate the data about population stratification for population-based association studies in North Dakota involving complex diseases.