The Samaritan community is a small, isolated, and highly endogamous group numbering some 650 members who have maintained extensive genealogical records for the past 13-15 generations. We performed mutation detection experiments on mitochondrial DNAs and Y chromosomes from confirmed maternal and paternal lineages to estimate mutation rates in these two haploid compartments of the genome. One hundred and twenty four DNA samples from different pedigrees (representing 200 generation links) were analyzed for the mtDNA hypervariable I and II regions, and 74 male samples (comprising 139 links) were typed for 12 Y-STRs mapping to the non-recombining portion of the Y chromosome (NRY). Excluding two somatic heteroplasmic substitutions and several length variants in the homopolymeric C run in the HVII region, no mutations were found in the Samaritans' maternal lineages. Based on mutations found in Samaritan paternal lineages, an estimate of a mutation rate of 0.42% (95% confidence interval of 0.22%-0.71%) across 12 Y-STRs was obtained. This estimate is slightly higher than those obtained in previous pedigree studies in other populations. The haplotypes identified in Samaritan paternal lineages that belong to the same haplogroup were used to estimate the number of generations elapsed since their most recent common ancestor (MRCA). The estimate of 80 generations corresponds with accepted traditions of the origin of this sect.
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