Thu, Jan 29, 2009 - Page 2 News List

DNA study supports Taiwan as origin of Pacific settlement

By William Lowther  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

More details have emerged about the techniques used by University of Auckland researchers in a recent study whose results backed earlier findings that Pacific settlers originated from Taiwan, traveling down south to the Philippines and on to Hawaii around 5,000 years ago.

Geneticists, biologists and linguists teamed up to provide further evidence that unravels one of the great mysteries of human migration. In a paper published this month in the journal Science, the researchers wrote of the fantastic sea voyages aboard primitive sailing craft from Taiwan.

The evidence came in large part from the DNA of Helicobacter pylori, a parasite that lives in the human gastrointestinal tract.

Molecular biologist Mark Achtman said that H. pylori was well established in the human gut when the first people left Africa about 60,000 years ago.

As each small band of explorers left the main group to go its own way — over periods of thousands of years — the DNA of H. pylori developed tiny changes that were passed from generation to generation, leaving their own distinct pattern of genetic mutation.

By taking gastric biopsies and mucus samples from the modern day Aborigines of Taiwan, the scientists found that their particular strain of H. pylori DNA came from what is known as the hspMaori family.

The researchers were able to trace and follow the exact same strain of DNA right through the peoples of the South Pacific, proving that the migration originated in Taiwan.

Peoples with another strain of H. pylori DNA — known as hpSahul — populated New Guinea and Australia more than 30,000 years ago from uncertain origins.

“Our results lend support for two distinct waves of migration into the Pacific. First, early migration to New Guinea and Australia accompanied by hpSahul and second, a much later dispersal of hspMaori from Taiwan through the Pacific by the Malayo-Polynesian-speaking Lapita culture,” the report said.

Among the scientists directly involved in the studies was Wu Jeng-yih (吳政毅) of Kaohsiung Medical University.

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