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The genetic structure of the Belgian population

Journal article
Authors Jimmy Van den Eynden
T. Descamps
E. Delporte
N. H. C. Roosens
S. C. J. De Keersmaecker
V. De Wit
J. R. Vermeesch
E. Goetghebeur
J. Tafforeau
S. Demarest
M. Van den Bulcke
H. Van Oyen
Published in Human Genomics
Volume 12
Issue 6
ISSN 1473-9542
Publication year 2018
Published at Institute of Biomedicine, Department of Medical Biochemistry and Cell Biology
Language en
Keywords Genetic variability, Population genomics, Public health genomics, health interview survey, mail, dna, Genetics & Heredity
Subject categories Medical Biotechnology (with a focus on Cell Biology (including Stem Cell Biology), Molecular Biology, Microbiology, Biochemistry or Biopharmacy)


Background: National and international efforts like the 1000 Genomes Project are leading to increasing insights in the genetic structure of populations worldwide. Variation between different populations necessitates access to population-based genetic reference datasets. These data, which are important not only in clinical settings but also to potentiate future transitions towards a more personalized public health approach, are currently not available for the Belgian population. Results: To obtain a representative genetic dataset of the Belgian population, participants in the 2013 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) were invited to donate saliva samples for DNA analysis. DNA was isolated and single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) were determined using a genome-wide SNP array of around 300,000 sites, resulting in a high-quality dataset of 189 samples that was used for further analysis. A principal component analysis demonstrated the typical European genetic constitution of the Belgian population, as compared to other continents. Within Europe, the Belgian population could be clearly distinguished from other European populations. Furthermore, obvious signs from recent migration were found, mainly from Southern Europe and Africa, corresponding with migration trends from the past decades. Within Belgium, a small north-west to south-east gradient in genetic variability was noted, with differences between Flanders and Wallonia. Conclusions: This is the first study on the genetic structure of the Belgian population and its regional variation. The Belgian genetic structure mirrors its geographic location in Europe with regional differences and clear signs of recent migration.

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