Genetic Chaos

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Genetic Affinities of the Andaman Islanders, a Vanishing Human Population

Background: The Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal are inhabited by hunter-gatherers of unknown origin, now on the verge of extinction. The Andamanese and other Asian small-statured peoples, traditionally known as ''Negritos,'' resemble African pygmies. However, it is generally believed that they descend from the early Australo-Melanesian settlers of Southeast Asia and that their resemblance to some Africans is due to adaptation to a similar environment, rather than shared origins.

Results: We analyzed mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequences and RFLP polymorphisms, and Y chromosome biallelic markers and microsatellites, in present-day Andamanese of the Onge, Jarawa, and Great Andamanese tribes, and of inhabitants of the neighboring Nicobar Islands. We also analyzed mtDNA sequences from Andamanese hair samples collected by an ethnographer during 1906–1908. Living Andamanese exhibit low genetic variability that is consistent with their small population size and reproductive isolation.

Conclusions: Our data indicate that the Andamanese have closer affinities to Asian than to African populations and suggest that they are the descendants of the early Palaeolithic colonizers of Southeast Asia. In contrast, the Nicobarese have genetic affinities to groups widely distributed throughout Asia today, presumably descended from Neolithic agriculturalists.

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Supplementary Material