NEW YORK – On the eve of Independence Day, a fascinating story about how genome researchers have been able to confirm the uniqueness and long history of the people of Papua New Guinea.
Reinforcing that PNG evolved independently from the rest of the world for much of the last 50,000 years, the research – reported in the journal Science - analysed genome profiles from almost 400 people in many different communities throughout the country.
"Using genetics, we were able to see that people on the island of New Guinea evolved independently from rest of the world for much of the last 50,000 years," said senior author Chris Tyler-Smith, a researcher at the Sanger Institute.
Another significant finding was that the split between highland and lowland populations occurred between 10,000 and20,000 years ago.
The research team found dramatic levels of genetic diversity in PNG, which has genetic differentiation often exceeding that found between Eurasian populations.
PNG is noted for its linguistic diversity, with residents speaking around 850 different languages.
The team speculated that the pronounced diversity and population differentiation was due to a lack of any large-scale expansion of the population, which contrasted with Bronze Age European and African expansions.
"[In Papua New Guinea], we may be seeing the genetic, linguistic and cultural diversity that sedentary human societies can achieve in the absence of massive technology-driven expansions," the report said.
Archaeological evidence has uncovered evidence of human habitation of PNG that dates back 50,000 years, with consistent crop plant cultivation over the last 10,000 years.
The researchers found the split between highland and lowland populations stretched back to a point between 10-20,000 years ago.
It appeared that the highland populations remained isolated, diversifying and expanding over the last 10,000 years as cultivation became more intense.
At the same time, populations grew more slowly in PNG’s lowlands - a pattern attributed to the toll of malaria.