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Am J Phys Anthropol. 2002 Jan;117(1):49-67.

Mitochondrial DNA variability of West New Guinea populations.

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Department of Zoology, University of Bari, 70125 Bari, Italy.


This paper reports human mitochondrial DNA variability in West New Guinea (the least known, western side of the island of New Guinea), not yet described from a molecular perspective. The study was carried out on 202 subjects from 12 ethnic groups, belonging to six different Papuan language families, representative of both mountain and coastal plain areas. Mitochondrial DNA hypervariable region 1 (HVS 1) and the presence of the 9-bp deletion (intergenic region COII-tRNA(Lys)) were investigated. HVS 1 sequencing identified 73 polymorphic sites defining 89 haplotypes; the 9-bp deletion, which is considered a marker of Austronesian migration in the Pacific, was found to be absent in the whole West New Guinea study sample. Statistical analysis applied to the resulting haplotypes reveal high heterogeneity and an intersecting distribution of genetic variability in these populations, despite their cultural and geographic diversity. The results of subsequent phylogenetic approaches subdivide mtDNA diversity in West New Guinea into three main clusters (groups I-III), defined by sets of polymorphisms which are also shared by some individuals from Papua New Guinea. Comparisons with worldwide HVS 1 sequences stored in the MitBASE database show the absence of these patterns outside Oceania and a few Indonesian subjects, who also lack the 9-bp deletion. This finding, which is consistent with the effects of genetic drift and prolonged isolation of West New Guinea populations, lead us to regard these patterns as New Guinea population markers, which may harbor the genetic memory of the earliest human migrations to the island.

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