July 07, 2005

Archaic mtDNA in Taiwan and Polynesian origins

A reader brought a new study to my attention regarding Polynesian origins. Trejaut et al. have found that aboriginal Taiwanese have largely their own mtDNA lineages dating from Pleistocene times; these lineages belong to common Asian mitochondrial haplogroups, but they differ from those of the Han of mainland China and Taiwan. Moreover, Polynesians seem to be related to these aboriginal Taiwanese, reinforcing the idea that Polynesian women may have originated in Taiwan.

PLoS Biology (Online)

Mitochondrial DNA Provides a Link between Polynesians and Indigenous Taiwanese

Jean A. Trejaut et al.

Genetic affinities between aboriginal Taiwanese and populations from Oceania and Southeast Asia have previously been explored through analyses of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), Y chromosomal DNA, and human leukocyte antigen loci. Recent genetic studies have supported the “slow boat” and “entangled bank” models according to which the Polynesian migration can be seen as an expansion from Melanesia without any major direct genetic thread leading back to its initiation from Taiwan. We assessed mtDNA variation in 640 individuals from nine tribes of the central mountain ranges and east coast regions of Taiwan. In contrast to the Han populations, the tribes showed a low frequency of haplogroups D4 and G, and an absence of haplogroups A, C, Z, M9, and M10. Also, more than 85% of the maternal lineages were nested within haplogroups B4, B5a, F1a, F3b, E, and M7. Although indicating a common origin of the populations of insular Southeast Asia and Oceania, most mtDNA lineages in Taiwanese aboriginal populations are grouped separately from those found in China and the Taiwan general (Han) population, suggesting a prevalence in the Taiwanese aboriginal gene pool of its initial late Pleistocene settlers. Interestingly, from complete mtDNA sequencing information, most B4a lineages were associated with three coding region substitutions, defining a new subclade, B4a1a, that endorses the origin of Polynesian migration from Taiwan. Coalescence times of B4a1a were 13.2 ± 3.8 thousand years (or 9.3 ± 2.5 thousand years in Papuans and Polynesians). Considering the lack of a common specific Y chromosomal element shared by the Taiwanese aboriginals and Polynesians, the mtDNA evidence provided here is also consistent with the suggestion that the proto-Oceanic societies would have been mainly matrilocal.


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