July 5, 2005

Gene study suggests Polynesians came from Taiwan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A genetic study helps confirm thetheory that Polynesians, who settled islands across a vastswathe of ocean, started out in Taiwan, researchers reported onMonday.

Mitochondrial DNA, which is passed along virtuallyunchanged from mothers to their children, provides a kind ofgenetic clock linking present-day Polynesians to thedescendants of aboriginal residents of Taiwan.

Samples taken from nine indigenous Taiwanese tribes -- whoare different ethnically and genetically from the now-dominantHan Chinese -- show clear similarities between the Taiwangroups and ethnic Polynesians, Jean Trejaut and Marie Lin ofMackay Memorial Hospital in Taipei and colleagues reported.

Indigenous Taiwanese, Melanesian and Polynesian populationsshare three specific mutations in their mitochondrial DNA thatare not found in mainland east Asian populations, they reportin the journal Public Library of Science Biology.

Their findings suggest that Taiwanese aboriginalpopulations have been genetically isolated from mainlandChinese for between 10,000 and 20,000 years, and that theoriginal Polynesian migrants originated from people identicalto the aboriginal Taiwanese.

Earlier studies have looked at the Y chromosome, which menpass along from father to son.

No Y chromosome link has been found between the earlyresidents of the island of Formosa and the Polynesians, whichcould suggest early Oceanic societies organized around wivesand mothers, the researchers, who included a team at EstonianBiocenterin Tartu, Estonia, said.