Study traces genetic origin of Asian people


We may differ in color, language, and ethnicity, but people in East and Southeast Asia have a deep connection: we share a common human origin. This is according to the study entitled “Mapping Human Genetic Diversity in Asia” by the Human Genome Organization (HUGO) Pan-Asian SNP (for “single nucleotide polymorphism”) Consortium.

The study which analyzed the genetic make-up of 73 populations across 10 Asian countries traced the routes likely taken by pre-historic Asians as they migrated from coast to coast.

Over 90 scientists worked together to trace the origin of people in said area, including Dr. Maria Corazon De Ungria, Gayvelline Calacal, Frederick Delfin, Jazelyn Salvador, Kristina Tabbada, Lilian Villamor, and Henry Perdigon of the DNA Analysis Laboratory of the Natural Sciences Research Institute in the University of the Philippines Diliman; and Dr. Eva Maria Cutiongco-de la Paz and Dr, Carmencita Padilla of the Institute of Human Genetics - National Institutes of Health (IHG-NIH) of the University of the Philippines Manila.

The study supported a single wave of migration into Asia, raising questions on earlier theories of multiple inflows from both northern and southern routes into Asia. East Asians, according to the study, mainly originated from Southeast Asia with some minor traces from the Central-South Asian groups. The study suggests that people from China, Hong Kong, Japan, North and South Korea, and Taiwan mainly came from Southeast Asia – perhaps Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, or the Philippines.

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This figure shows plausible routes of pre-historical migration of Asian human populations. According to the study, the most recent common ancestors of Asians arrived first in India (aqua-green). Later, some of them migrated to Thailand, and South to the lands known today as Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. The first group of settlers must have gone very far south before they settled successfully. These included the Malay Negritos (brown), Philippine Negritos (purple), the East Indonesians, and early settlers of the Pacific Islands (dark green). Thereafter, one or several groups of people migrated North, mixed with previous settlers there and, finally, formed various populations we now refer to as Austronesian (light green), Austro-Asiatic (red), Tai-Kadai (dark blue), Hmong-Mien (light blue), and Altaic (yellow) etc.


The study revealed that the most recent common ancestors of Asians arrived first in India. Some of these ancestors later migrated to Thailand, and then to the Southern area which are known today as Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. An analysis on the probable routes of Asian ancestors showed that the first group of settlers appeared to have gone very far south before successfully settling down. These settlers were Malay Negritos, Philippine Negritos, the East Indonesians, and early settlers of the Pacific Islands. The greater genetic diversity characteristic of populations in southern part of Asia support this proposition. The study also found that genetic ancestry is highly correlated with geography and linguistic affiliation— people who live in the same location and speak the same language generally have the same ancestral origins.

“It is amazing how we can use science to better understand our ancient past, and realize how we are different and how we are the same,” said Dr. De Ungria who worked on analyzing Philippine samples, including those collected from Philippine Negritos and regional populations. “In fact, one could put forward that our DNA definitely codes for a common denominator in Asia amidst the apparent diversity of populations, culture, beliefs and languages.”

Dr. De Ungria focused on Philippine population samples with over 5000 single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) markers using microarray technology at the Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS).

“I hope that we can take this discovery to the next level- by providing more support for our own Philippine scientists to undertake this worthwhile endeavor of studying our past in order to look towards the future. This discovery will help us recognize our common origin and underscore the need for unity amidst apparent diversity in our Asian homeland,” she added.

Professor Edison Liu, Executive Director at the GIS and the President of the HUGO said, “This study was a milestone not only in the science that emerged, but the consortium that was formed. Ten Asian countries came together in the spirit of solidarity to understand how we were related as a people, and we finished with a truly Asian scientific community.”

“We overcame shortage of funds and diverse operational constraints through partnerships, good will, and cultural sensitivity,” Liu, initiator and coordinator of this research, revealed. “Our next goal is to expand this collaboration to all of Asia including Central Asia and the Polynesian Islands, and to be more detailed in our genomic analysis. We plan therefore to include structural variations and over a million single nucleotide polymorphisms in the next analysis.”

The study created an enormous genotype database which is publicly accessible at This site also provides an important up-to-date reference to scientists of diverse fields, such as human genetics and disease, medicine, anthropology, linguistics, and archaeology.



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