Tracing man's migration to East Asia

Research from China analysing the mDNA of East Asians suggests more evidence that early man migrated to China using the “Southern Route” from Arabia, India and Southeast Asia rather than from a northern Central Asian route. [Update: Link has been fixed]

Chinese scientists reveal ancient man’s route to East Asia
People’s Daily, 12 October 2010

The research results of human molecular genetics support the theory that human beings originated in Africa, which means modern humans living on Earth are all descendants of prehistoric humans who originated in Africa about 50,000 to 100,000 years ago. Which route did China’s ancestors travel along when they migrated from Africa to East Asia?

To provide new scientific evidence to solve this question, Ma Runlin, researcher from the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), and Su Bing, researcher from the Kunming Institute of Zoology under the CAS, recently cooperated with other scientists to conduct sampling research on the genetic materials of modern humans in the East Asia region.

Ma noted that there are two hypotheses about the route taken by the ancient Chinese as they migrated from Africa to East Asia, namely, the “South Route” and the “North Route.” According to the South Route hypothesis, the ancestors of modern humans in East Asia first traveled to the Arabian Peninsula after they left East Africa, and then migrated into the Southeast Asia region (including Yunnan Province of China) along the coastline of the Indian Ocean.

The group of researchers led by Ma sampled the DNA of 3,826 men from the Korean Peninsula and from 116 regions in both southern and northern China, mapped the geographical distribution of Y-chromosomal haplogroup variants and identified the formation time of related haplotypes.

The researchers also analyzed the mitochondrial DNA of the men sampled because mitochondrial genetic information is inherited only from the mother, which is called “matrilineal inheritance.” This way, scientists found out where our “mothers” came from.

Research results show that about 93 percent of the Y-chromosomal haplogroups of people sampled contained genetic information that supports the South Route theory, while some 7 percent of the results show that there is indeed a gene inflow from Central Asia and Europe.


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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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