Left: Amazon shaman (Wikimedia Commons). Right: Australian Aboriginal

Genetic studies link indigenous peoples in the Amazon and Australasia

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Native Americans living in the Amazon bear an unexpected genetic connection to indigenous people in Australasia, suggesting a previously unknown wave of migration to the Americas thousands of years ago, a new study has found.

"It's incredibly surprising," said David Reich, Harvard Medical School professor of genetics and senior author of the study. "There's a strong working model in archaeology and genetics, of which I have been a proponent, that most Native Americans today extend from a single pulse of expansion south of the ice sheets--and that's wrong. We missed something very important in the original data."

Previous research had shown that Native Americans from the Arctic to the southern tip of South America can trace their ancestry to a single "founding population" called the First Americans, who came across the Bering land bridge about 15,000 years ago. In 2012, Reich and colleagues enriched this history by showing that certain indigenous groups in northern Canada inherited DNA from at least two subsequent waves of migration.

The new study, published July 21 in Nature, indicates that there's more to the story.

The coast of Bering Land Bridge

The coast of Bering Land Bridge ( Wikimedia Commons )

Pontus Skoglund, first author of the paper and a postdoctoral researcher in the Reich lab, was studying genetic data gathered as part of the 2012 study when he noticed a strange similarity between one or two Native American groups in Brazil and indigenous groups in Australia, New Guinea and the Andaman Islands.

"That was an unexpected and somewhat confusing result," said Reich, who is also an associate member of the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT and a Howard Hughes Medical Investigator. "We spent a really long time trying to make this result go away and it just got stronger."

Skoglund and colleagues from HMS, the Broad and several universities in Brazil analyzed publicly available genetic information from 21 Native American populations from Central and South America. They also collected and analyzed DNA from nine additional populations in Brazil to make sure the link they saw hadn't been an artifact of how the first set of genomes had been collected. The team then compared those genomes to the genomes of people from about 200 non-American populations.

Indigenous people of Brazil

Indigenous people of Brazil ( Wikipedia)

The link persisted. The Tupí-speaking Suruí and Karitiana and the Ge-speaking Xavante of the Amazon had a genetic ancestor more closely related to indigenous Australasians than to any other present-day population. This ancestor doesn't appear to have left measurable traces in other Native American groups in South, Central or North America.

The genetic markers from this ancestor don't match any population known to have contributed ancestry to Native Americans, and the geographic pattern can't be explained by post-Columbian European, African or Polynesian mixture with Native Americans, the authors said. They believe the ancestry is much older--perhaps as old as the First Americans.

In the ensuing millennia, the ancestral group has disappeared.

"We've done a lot of sampling in East Asia and nobody looks like this," said Skoglund. "It's an unknown group that doesn't exist anymore."

The team named the mysterious ancestor Population Y, after the Tupí word for ancestor, "Ypykuéra."

Reich, Skoglund and colleagues propose that Population Y and First Americans came down from the ice sheets to become the two founding populations of the Americas.

"We don't know the order, the time separation or the geographical patterns," said Skoglund.

Researchers do know that the DNA of First Americans looked similar to that of Native Americans today. Population Y is more of a mystery.

"About 2 percent of the ancestry of Amazonians today comes from this Australasian lineage that's not present in the same way elsewhere in the Americas," said Reich.

Australian Aboriginal

Australian Aboriginal ( Steve Evans / Flickr )

However, that doesn't establish how much of their ancestry comes from Population Y. If Population Y were 100 percent Australasian, that would indeed mean they contributed 2 percent of the DNA of today's Amazonians. But if Population Y mixed with other groups such as the First Americans before they reached the Americas, the amount of DNA they contributed to today's Amazonians could be much higher--up to 85 percent.

To answer that question, researchers would need to sample DNA from the remains of a person who belonged to Population Y. Such DNA hasn't been obtained yet. One place to look might be in the skeletons of early Native Americans whose skulls some researchers say have Australasian features. The majority of these skeletons were found in Brazil.

Comments

Australoid originated in southern Asia and spanned the coastlines from the Mediterranean to the Pacific, hybridizing with Caucasians in the west and East Asians in the east. It is quite possibily that hybrid Australoid-East Asians (a group which includes Polynesians, Melanesians and possibly Turkmen) reached the Americas from Siberia.

Why should it not coinside with when the Australian Aboriginals came to Australia? They should be able to date when  the split between these from each other isolated contemporary populations occured also without access to  the original population carrying this DNA. 

Inventor

Tsurugi's picture

Hey Inventor,

I have been wondering, how exactly do they arrive at dates for things in the distant past(such as the split you are talking about) using DNA?

Hey Tsurugi

They can look at the number of differences of point mutations in these fragments and as well look at the mean size of the fragments that will be a result of over and over  again repeated substitutions. One is longer term and the other is a shorter term dating possibility 

 

Inventor

Yes exactly, we know very little about the indigenous American people. So stop mixing things up with these crazy theories that skrew with people's heads. The just have dna that resembles the Australian people just like my Hawaiian dna more resembles Maori dna. Or these people they are testing have resent Australian ancestors which is more likely. My great great grand father was chinese which accounts for my Y-dna but only represents 2% of my dna

Tsurugi's picture

What in this article do you think is "screwing with people's heads"?

If you want to stop screwing with people's heads, you should stop referring to them as "indigenous". They migrated here, didn't they?

Anthropologists cling to the Bering Strait crossing theory, despite tremendous amounts of evidence against it, such as this DNA.  Despite the obvious African features of the Olmec sculptures, many anthropologists insist Africans never sailed to the Americas.  

The Americas has way too many languages for the short period attributed to people here. We just don’t know enough about our past to even make good guesses.

 

Tom Carberry

The reason Olmec have not been attributed to Africa is because you cannot connect a culture with only a stone head as proof of a connection and with this proof some thick lips and a wide nose as being African when in fact there are Asian people who have these same features- like Cambodians and some Indonesians and Papua New Guinea, lots of Naive American Tribes have wide noses and thick lips, etc Majority of west African do not have these features at all.
There is no DNA in the are that can be be match anywhere near close to the gold coast of african dna.

You are right, yet Afrocentrics continue to run with theories that are based on nothing more than similarities and emotional conjecture. The Australoids are proven to have been there because their dna still exists in the Amazonian Indians

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