The BIOSTRE project is the first¬† capillary genetic study on the populations from the Province of Trento (Trentino Alto-Adige¬†region). Trentino is an ideal field of study to investigate the relationship between human genetic variation and geographical and cultural factors. In fact, in a relatively small area (6,200 Km2), it hosts populations with a high linguistic diversity. Other than Italian-speaking communities with different dialectal variants, there are three linguistic minorities. The Ladin romance language from¬† the Fassa Valley and two German communities, the M√≤cheni from the Fersina valley of Alemanne origin who settled in the territory in the XIII century and the Cimbri from Luserna¬† of¬† Bavarian origin whose origins in Trentino date back to 1216. This cultural diversity may have influenced the marriage behavior and consequently the genetic relationships among the different communities. Additionally, Trentino has a complex geography. In fact, there are potential isolating factors between populations, such as mountain reliefs (60% of the territory is at an altitude >1000 m. a.s.l.) which may have led to the persistence of cultural and genetic factors in the various communities. On the other hand, there are important communication routes, such as the Adige valley, that could have favored genetic exchange among populations.¬†
The research analyzed the genetic variation of different genetic markers¬†(mitochondrial DNA, Y chromosome and autosomal) among modern populations from Trentino, with different culture and origin.
Besides the analysis of current populations, the BIOSTRE project also analyzed the¬† ancient human genetic variation¬† of¬† Trentino through the analysis of the ancient DNA from Neolithic remains discovered in the region and which date back to 6500 years ago.
The main objectives of the study were:
1. To define the genetic relationships among the populations from¬† Trentino with¬† different culture (language) and origin, and between these and other European populations, in order to evaluate the effect of linguistic and geographical factors on their genetic structure.
2. To reconstruct the processes of the ancient peopling of the region in order to better understand the origin of the populations from Trentino. This was done in two different ways:
Analyzing information on the genetic variation of modern populations which, through the use of models,¬† will make it possible to better understand past events;¬†¬†¬†
Comparing the data concerning modern populations with data obtained from the analysis of ancient DNA in order to evaluate the possible genetic continuity or discontinuity¬† among modern and ancient populations.
In reference to the origin of the populations from Trentino, the project focused mainly on the prehistoric period characterized by the shift from a subsistence economy based on hunting and gathering¬† (practiced by hunter-gatherer groups from the Paleolithic) to that based on the production of food and breeding of animals (Neolithic farmers). The understanding of this process in Trentino also has important general implications regarding the origin of modern European populations, an issue which is currently being hotly debated in the scientific community.