via Molecular Biology and Evolution, 21 June 2021: A genetic study of the Peranakans, a Southeast Asian community of Chinese who inter-married with indigenous Malays, revealing an admixture event occurring around 1,600 years ago.
The Peranakan Chinese are culturally unique descendants of immigrants from China who settled in the Malay Archipelago ∼300–500 years ago. Today, among large communities in Southeast Asia, the Peranakans have preserved Chinese traditions with strong influence from the local indigenous Malays. Yet, whether or to what extent genetic admixture co-occurred with the cultural mixture has been a topic of ongoing debate. We performed whole-genome sequencing (WGS) on 177 Singapore (SG) Peranakans and analyzed the data jointly with WGS data of Asian and European populations. We estimated that Peranakan Chinese inherited ∼5.62% (95% confidence interval [CI]: 4.76–6.49%) Malay ancestry, much higher than that in SG Chinese (1.08%, 0.65–1.51%), southern Chinese (0.86%, 0.50–1.23%), and northern Chinese (0.25%, 0.18–0.32%). A sex-biased admixture history, in which the Malay ancestry was contributed primarily by females, was supported by X chromosomal variants, and mitochondrial (MT) and Y haplogroups. Finally, we identified an ancient admixture event shared by Peranakan Chinese and SG Chinese ∼1,612 (95% CI: 1,345–1,923) years ago, coinciding with the settlement history of Han Chinese in southern China, apart from the recent admixture event with Malays unique to Peranakan Chinese ∼190 (159–213) years ago. These findings greatly advance our understanding of the dispersal history of Chinese and their interaction with indigenous populations in Southeast Asia.