Human genetics of the Kula Ring: Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA variation in the Massim of Papua New Guinea

Mannis Oven, Silke Brauer, Y Choi, J Ensing, W Schiefenhovel, M Stoneking, Manfred Kayser

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The island region at the southeastern-most tip of New Guinea and its inhabitants known as Massim are well known for a unique traditional inter-island trading system, called Kula or Kula Ring. To characterize the Massim genetically, and to evaluate the influence of the Kula Ring on patterns of human genetic variation, we analyzed paternally inherited Y-chromosome (NRY) and maternally inherited mitochondrial (mt) DNA polymorphisms in >400 individuals from this region. We found that the nearly exclusively Austronesian-speaking Massim people harbor genetic ancestry components of both Asian (AS) and Near Oceanian (NO) origin, with a proportionally larger NO NRY component versus a larger AS mtDNA component. This is similar to previous observations in other Austronesian-speaking populations from Near and Remote Oceania and suggests sex-biased genetic admixture between Asians and Near Oceanians before the occupation of Remote Oceania, in line with the Slow Boat from Asia hypothesis on the expansion of Austronesians into the Pacific. Contrary to linguistic expectations, Rossel Islanders, the only Papuan speakers of the Massim, showed a lower amount of NO genetic ancestry than their Austronesian-speaking Massim neighbors. For the islands traditionally involved in the Kula Ring, a significant correlation between inter-island travelling distances and genetic distances was observed for mtDNA, but not for NRY, suggesting more male-than female-mediated gene flow. As traditionally only males take part in the Kula voyages, this finding may indicate a genetic signature of the Kula Ring, serving as another example of how cultural tradition has shaped human genetic diversity.
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Pages (from-to)1393-1403
Number of pages11
JournalEuropean Journal of Human Genetics
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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  • EMC MGC-02-26-01

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