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Research sheds new light on Pacific history

New research data are helping to answer some important questions on how the ancestors of modern day Polynesians came to settle Oceania and have provided some exciting new insights into the process of recent human evolution in the Pacific.

Study member Dr Geoff Chambers of Victoria University's Institute for Molecular Systematics says the genetic study showed clear differences between the ways men and women have contributed to the Polynesian gene pool.

The new report is based on analysis of male specific Y chromosome markers and describes a pattern of complex relationships between Pacific Island populations. This is in contrast with previous archaeological, linguistic and molecular studies, which uphold a rapid expansion of Austronesian peoples into the Pacific.

Dr Chambers was asked to join an international research team headed by scientists from Stanford University in 1998 and following approval from the Wellington Ethics Committee the researchers began testing DNA samples from 148 contributors in 1999. The survey involved testing the volunteers who were either of Maori or Polynesian descent for genes that are passed down from father to son.

"The new data show that males from locations in Southeast Asia, Melanesia and New Guinea have contributed to the Polynesian gene pool. This is in marked contrast with female (mitrochondrial DNA) markers which are more or less exclusively of the Southeast Asian type", Dr Chambers says.

For Dr Chambers the new data help to resolve some long-standing questions about how Polynesian settlement occurred. "The whole story makes better sense now that we have evidence that genetic exchange occurred between the voyagers and resident populations that they encountered along the way".

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