June 03, 2013

Y chromosome history of East Asia (Wang & Li 2013)

A useful review paper that should be useful to anyone trying to understand the broad patterns of Asian prehistory.

Investigative Genetics 2013, 4:11 doi:10.1186/2041-2223-4-11

Inferring human history in East Asia from Y chromosomes

Chuan-Chao Wang and Hui Li

Abstract (provisional)

East Asia harbors substantial genetic, physical, cultural and linguistic diversity, but the detailed structures and interrelationships of those aspects remain enigmatic. This question has begun to be addressed by a rapid accumulation of molecular anthropological studies of the populations in and around East Asia, especially by Y chromosome studies. The current Y chromosome evidence suggests multiple early migrations of modern humans from Africa via Southeast Asia to East Asia. After the initial settlements, the northward migrations during the Paleolithic Age shaped the genetic structure in East Asia. Subsequently, recent admixtures between Central Asian immigrants and northern East Asians enlarged the genetic divergence between southern and northern East Asia populations. Cultural practices, such as languages, agriculture, military affairs and social prestige, also have impacts on the genetic patterns in East Asia. Furthermore, application of Y chromosome analyses in the family genealogy studies offers successful showcases of the utility of genetics in studying the ancient history.



  1. This is a synthesis review of prior research and not a new data source. The text on haplogroup D is even more equivocal than the chart. And, sadly, the report does almost nothing to incorporate archaeological data that help fix the timeline despite the uncertainty in mutation rates. It also adds essential no new insight of its own, merely recapping the headlines of prior studies.

    As a Chinese paper, the English language usage is also not very sensitive to modern sensibilities about "polite terminology" and equivalences. For example, no American or European researcher would flatly treat Y-DNA haplogroup and race as synonymous and even fewer would use the term "yellow" to describe the races of East Asians and Native Americans. Likewise, I've never seen a paper refer to "black Asians" with the term "negrito" sually used for that phenotype. In a native English language speaking paper the usages would verge on offensive, but given that the authors are Chinese language speakers, this is at least better than a lot of non-professional efforts to write in English.

    This is useful as an open access Cliff Notes version of prior research, but no more (and honestly, the metaphor does injustice to the comprehensive and insightful Cliff Notes series) and should be taken with a grain of salt as to terminology.

  2. I'm sorry to say, but this paper is a complete disgrace at all levels. I am both offended and appalled by the twisting of facts for the sake of the authors' arbitrary so-called "theories". Whatever few redeemable qualities the paper has, its diluted by the racist connotations engulfing it from start to finish.

  3. John Miller,

    I didn't find anything racist in the article other than maybe a few language and cultural barriers that may appear "racist" in the minds of westerners.

    This paper is a good synthesis of many different research articles.

    What the authors say in this article are true and I can't see how anyone could argue against them.

  4. It does not matter what some in the US or Europe think about the racial terminology and information used in this paper. Science has no borders. Get used to it.

  5. @ Justin.

    I agree with you on the issue of language choice being mostly one of language and cultural barriers. A failure to use "politically correct" terminology means a lot less coming from a pair of non-native English speakers in Shanghai, China than it does from an author at an institution in the United States or England or Australia or Canada.

    But, it is not "a good synthesis" either. It is only a mediocre compilation of different research articles that does precious little synthesis. It is really little more than an annotated bibliography. And, the strong implication in Figure 3 that Y-DNA haplogroup and racial phenotype are equivalent, unlike some of the other lapses, is not just poor use of language, it is a statement that reveals the author's shallow understanding of a key substantive point familiar to anyone in the field.

    Their summary of the literature which parrots the conclusions of other studies without showing any real insight into their meaning of limitations likewise reflects a lack of a deep understanding of the subject.

    The abstract is provisional (and by implication the article is a pre-print), but quite frankly, I'd be embarrassed to publish this if I were them. The quality of the analysis is at a level I would expect of a promising but unpolished sophomore college students at an open admissions institution and below the quality I would expect from a Wikipedia article, which isn't impressive coming from two Fudan University professors working at a Genetic Engineering Laboratory and Contemporary Anthropology Laboratory, in a published scholarly journal (if indeed this is who they are). They do nothing to connect the dots, to critically evaluate the reasons to prefer one interpretation over another, or to embed the analysis in a larger narrative or in the context of the linguistic and archaeological evidence.

    The one redeeming possibility is that one of the sponsoring bodies for the paper is the "National Excellent Youth Science Foundation of China", so it is possible that these authors really are just undergraduate college students who have perhaps won some sort of contest competing only with their peers with publication of their paper as the main prize, which would explain a lot. The fact that their e-mail addresses are gmail addresses rather than institutional domain e-mail addresses also tends to support this inference.


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