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Characterization of population structure from the mitochondrial DNA vis-à-vis language and geography in Papua New Guinea



Situated along a corridor linking the Asian continent with the outer islands of the Pacific, Papua New Guinea has long played a key role in understanding the initial peopling of Oceania. The vast diversity in languages and unique geographical environments in the region have been central to the debates on human migration and the degree of interaction between the Pleistocene settlers and newer migrants. To better understand the role of Papua New Guinea in shaping the region's prehistory, we sequenced the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) control region of three populations, a total of 94 individuals, located in the East Sepik Province of Papua New Guinea. We analyzed these samples with a large data set of Oceania populations to examine the role of geography and language in shaping population structure within New Guinea and between the region and Island Melanesia. Our results from median-joining networks, star-cluster age estimates, and population genetic analyses show that while highland New Guinea populations seem to be the oldest settlers, there has been significant gene flow within New Guinea with little influence from geography or language. The highest genetic division is between Papuan speakers of New Guinea versus East Papuan speakers located outside of mainland New Guinea. Our study supports the weak language barriers to genetic structuring among populations in close contact and highlights the complexity of understanding the genetic histories of Papua New Guinea in association with language and geography. Am J Phys Anthropol 142:613–624, 2010. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.