Although there are numerous ethnic groups in Sierra Leone, the Mende and Temne together account for approximately 60% of the total population. To see if genetic differences could be observed among ethnic groups in Sierra Leone, the nucleotide sequence of the hypervariable 1 (HV1) region of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) was determined from samples of the two major ethnic groups, the Mende (n = 59) and Temne (n = 121), and of two minor ethnic groups, the Loko (n = 29) and Limba (n = 67). Among these 276 HV1 sequences, 164 individual haplotypes were observed. An analysis of molecular variance indicated that the distribution of these haplotypes within the Limba sample was significantly different from that of the other ethnic groups. No significant genetic variation was seen between the Mende, Temne, and Loko. These results indicate that distinguishing genetic differences can be observed among ethnic groups residing in historically close proximity to one another. Furthermore, we observed some mitochondrial DNA haplotypes that are common among the Sierra Leone ethnic groups but that have not been observed in other published studies of West African ethnic groups. Therefore, we may have evidence for mtDNA lineages that are unique to this region of West Africa.
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