January 13, 2008

Andaman islanders: relic of early Asians or more recent migrants?

Am J Phys Anthropol. 2008 Jan 10 [Epub ahead of print]

Detailed mtDNA genotypes permit a reassessment of the settlement and population structure of the Andaman Islands.

Barik SS, Sahani R, Prasad BV, Endicott P, Metspalu M, Sarkar BN, Bhattacharya S, Annapoorna PC, Sreenath J, Sun D, Sanchez JJ, Ho SY, Chandrasekar A, Rao VR.

Anthropological Survey of India, 27 Jawaharlal Nehru Road, Kolkata 700 016, India.

The population genetics of the Indian subcontinent is central to understanding early human prehistory due to its strategic location on the proposed corridor of human movement from Africa to Australia during the late Pleistocene. Previous genetic research using mtDNA has emphasized the relative isolation of the late Pleistocene colonizers, and the physically isolated Andaman Island populations of Island South-East Asia remain the source of claims supporting an early split between the populations that formed the patchy settlement pattern along the coast of the Indian Ocean. Using whole-genome sequencing, combined with multiplexed SNP typing, this study investigates the deep structure of mtDNA haplogroups M31 and M32 in India and the Andaman Islands. The identification of a so far unnoticed rare polymorphism shared between these two lineages suggests that they are actually sister groups within a single haplogroup, M31'32. The enhanced resolution of M31 allows for the inference of a more recent colonization of the Andaman Islands than previously suggested, but cannot reject the very early peopling scenario. We further demonstrate a widespread overlap of mtDNA and cultural markers between the two major language groups of the Andaman archipelago. Given the "completeness" of the genealogy based on whole genome sequences, and the multiple scenarios for the peopling of the Andaman Islands sustained by this inferred genealogy, our study hints that further mtDNA based phylogeographic studies are unlikely to unequivocally support any one of these possibilities.


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