Genetic Chaos

Friday, May 28, 2004

Native American Y Chromosomes in Polynesia: The Genetic Impact of the Polynesian Slave Trade

Since Thor Heyerdahl asserted that Polynesia was first colonized from the Americas (Heyerdahl 1950), geneticists have sought—but have not found—any evidence to support his theories. Here, Native American Y-chromosomes are detected on the Polynesian island of Rapa. However, this, together with other odd features of the island’s Y-chromosomal gene pool, is best explained as the genetic impact of a 19th century Peruvian slave trade in Polynesia. These findings underscore the need to account for history before turning to prehistory and the value of archival research to understanding modern genetic diversity. Although the impact of the Atlantic slave trade on the distribution of modern genetic diversity has been well appreciated, this represents the first study investigating the impact of this underappreciated episode on genetic diversity in the Pacific.

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European Y-Chromosomal Lineages in Polynesians: A Contrast to the Population Structure Revealed by mtDNA

We have used Y-chromosomal polymorphisms to trace paternal lineages in Polynesians by use of samples previously typed for mtDNA variants. A genealogical approach utilizing hierarchical analysis of eight rare-event biallelic polymorphisms, seven microsatellite loci, and internal structural analysis of the hypervariable minisatellite, MSY1, has been used to define three major paternal-lineage clusters in Polynesians. Two of these clusters, both defined by novel MSY1 modular structures and representing 55% of the Polynesians studied, are also found in coastal Papua New Guinea. Reduced Polynesian diversity, relative to that in Melanesians, is illustrated by the presence of several examples of identical MSY1 codes and microsatellite haplotypes within these lineage clusters in Polynesians. The complete lack of Y chromosomes having the M4 base substitution in Polynesians, despite their prevalence (64%) in Melanesians, may also be a result of the multiple bottleneck events during the colonization of this region of the world. The origin of the M4 mutation has been dated by use of two independent methods based on microsatellite-haplotype and minisatellite-code diversity. Because of the wide confidence limits on the mutation rates of these loci, the M4 mutation cannot be conclusively dated relative to the colonization of Polynesia, 3,000 years ago. The other major lineage cluster found in Polynesians, defined by a base substitution at the 92R7 locus, represents 27% of the Polynesians studied and, most probably, originates in Europe. This is the first Y-chromosomal evidence of major European admixture with indigenous Polynesian populations and contrasts sharply with the picture given by mtDNA evidence.

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Melanesian origin of Polynesian Y chromosomes

Background: Two competing hypotheses for the origins of Polynesians are the ‘express-train’ model, which supposes a recent and rapid expansion of Polynesian ancestors from Asia/Taiwan via coastal and island Melanesia, and the ‘entangled-bank’ model, which supposes a long history of cultural and genetic interactions among Southeast Asians, Melanesians and Polynesians. Most genetic data, especially analyses of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) variation, support the express-train model, as does linguistic and archaeological evidence. Here, we used Y-chromosome polymorphisms to investigate the origins of Polynesians.

Results: We analysed eight single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and seven short tandem repeat (STR) loci on the Y chromosome in 28 Cook Islanders from Polynesia and 583 males from 17 Melanesian, Asian and Australian populations. We found that all Polynesians belong to just three Y-chromosome haplotypes, as defined by unique event polymorphisms. The major Y haplotype in Polynesians (82% frequency) was restricted to Melanesia and eastern Indonesia and most probably arose in Melanesia. Coalescence analysis of associated Y-STR haplotypes showed evidence of a population expansion in Polynesians, beginning about 2,200 years ago. The other two Polynesian Y haplotypes were widespread in Asia but were also found in Melanesia.

Conclusions: All Polynesian Y chromosomes can be traced back to Melanesia, although some of these Y-chromosome types originated in Asia. Together with other genetic and cultural evidence, we propose a new model of Polynesian origins that we call the ‘slow-boat’ model: Polynesian ancestors did originate from Asia/Taiwan but did not move rapidly through Melanesia; rather, they interacted with and mixed extensively with Melanesians, leaving behind their genes and incorporating many Melanesian genes before colonising the Pacific.

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