World-first genome study reveals rich history of Aboriginal Australians

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-09-22/world-first-study-reveals-rich-history-of-aboriginal-australians/7858376

Updated

screenshot_3

Video: Australian Aborigines are one of the oldest continuous cultures in the world. (Photo: Getty Images/Mark Kolbe) (ABC News)

The most comprehensive genomic study of Indigenous Australians to date has revealed modern humans are all descendants of a single wave of migrants who left Africa about 72,000 years ago.


Key points

  • Aboriginal and Papuan ancestors left Africa around 72,000 years ago
  • Arrived on supercontinent ‘Sahul’ around 50,000 years ago
  • By 31,000 years ago, most Aboriginal communities were genetically isolated from each other, giving rise to great genetic diversity

It confirms modern Aboriginal Australians are the descendants of the first people to inhabit Australia — a claim that has previously been the subject of debate.

And the genetic information also shows Aboriginal people living in desert conditions may have developed unique biological adaptations to survive the arid conditions.

The findings are contained in one of three papers published today in Nature that look at the dispersal of modern humans from our evolutionary birthplace in Africa to Europe, Asia and Oceania.

To date, academics have debated whether we all share the same ancestors from a single mass migration event, or that the dispersal took place in distinct waves at different times.

The long history of human occupation of Australia has been cited as evidence that Papuans and Australians stemmed from an earlier migration than the ancestors of Eurasian peoples.

However, taken together, today’s papers use the genetic information of people from 280 diverse populations from largely understudied regions of the world to support the single wave theory.

Migration from Africa to Australia

The Aboriginal study, led by Professor Eske Willerslev of the University of Cambridge, was undertaken with the collaboration of elders and leaders of various Indigenous communities.

The international team sequenced the genome of 83 Aboriginal Australians from the Pama-Nyungan-speaking language group, which covers 90 per cent of the continent, and 25 Highland Papuans.

Australian co-author, Dr Michael Westaway of Griffith University said the study showed evidence only for one colonisation event in Australia, and a continuity of occupation from that genomic signature for 40,000-odd years.

It reveals Papuan and Aboriginal ancestors left Africa around 72,000 years ago and then split from the main group around 58,000 years ago.

They reached the supercontinent of ‘Sahul’ that originally united Tasmania, Australia and New Guinea around 50,000 years ago, picking up the DNA of Neanderthals, Denisovans and another extinct hominin along the way.

Papuans and Aboriginals then split around 37,000 years ago, long before the continents were finally cut off from each other around 8,000 years ago.

Dr Westaway said this was “a bit of a surprise” as it was much earlier than a lot of people expected.

The researchers suggest although Australia and New Guinea remained connected until the early Holocene, the flooding of the Carpentaria basin and its increasing salinity may have promoted population isolation.

Professor David Lambert, who was also involved with the study, said the point of entry into Australia was still unclear, but the data revealed an expansion of people from Cape York.

“What our data shows is not so much that necessarily there was an entry point into the continent via Cape York, but what it shows us is that there was a divergence of a whole lot of people from Cape York, we think about 30,000 years ago,” he said.

Remarkable genetic diversity between east and west

Researchers and Aboriginal elder Photo: Study lead author Professor Eske Willerslev talks to Aboriginal elders in the Kalgoorlie area in southwestern Australia (Supplied: Preben Hjort, Mayday Film)

The study also revealed remarkable genetic diversity between Aboriginal people of the east and west of Australia.

Dr Westaway said this could be connected to the last Ice Age around 30,000 to 20,000 years ago.

“The onset of the last glacial maximum creates this huge expansion of the arid core in Australia and a dramatic reduction in gene flow between the east and west of the country,” he said.

Interestingly the genome sequencing also showed Aboriginal Australians adapted biologically to the environment, a trait Dr Westaway said was reinforced by their long occupation of the continent.

In particular, the evidence suggested desert groups were able to withstand sub-zero night temperatures without showing the increase in metabolic rates observed in Europeans under the same conditions.

“When people first arrived 50,000 years ago arid Australia wasn’t like it is today,” Dr Westaway said.

“People have changed and adapted over deep time as the country has … we just don’t see that in any other Homo sapiens populations.

“There is greater genetic diversity in Aboriginal people living in the east and west of Australia then there is between people living in Siberia and the Americas.

“[And] that great genetic diversity in Aboriginal populations reflects the huge amount of time they have occupied the continent.”

More work needed to clarify gaps

Dr Westaway said the study presented a “lot of new challenges to our current knowledge” about the population history of Australia.

“We only have 83 genomes representing the population history of an entire continent … I think there is so much more that needs to be done, but most importantly working and partnering with Aboriginal peoples.”

In particular, he said, it would be good to sequence the genome of Aboriginal people in the non-Pama language groups.

“Arnhem Land and the Gulf of Carpentaria are non-Pama-speaking language groups so the story could be very different there and could fill in the gaps in this model of dispersion,” he said.

Professor Alan Cooper, at the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA, who was not involved in the study, agreed the researchers needed more information.

He said dates within the paper were contradictory as it showed inter-mixing with another group of ancient humans known as Denisovans around 44,000 years at a time when the ancestors of Aboriginal Australians were already meant to be in Sahul.

“They say there is only one invasion of [Sahul] and that happens around 50,000 years ago, but then they go on to say Aboriginal Australians have genetically mixed with Denisovans at 44,000 years.

“So how can you be in [Sahul] after a single invasion, yet 6000 years later you mix with another extinct hominim that is not in Australia?

“This is early days and the first genomic data we’ve got from this area. Clearly these processes are much more complex than they have modelled, and I think that the dates are wrong as a result.

“All three genomic studies show a single movement Out of Africa, a single invasion of Sahul, but then after that the events in [Sahul] aren’t very well resolved.”

Important collaboration with Aboriginal community

Indigenous elder Thomas Wales and Griffith University Senior Research Fellow Michael Westerway. Photo: Indigenous elder Thomas Wales and Griffith University Senior Research Fellow Michael Westerway on a beach at Mapoon in Cape York. World-first genetic research into aboriginal Australians has found that most of the countrys indigenous population was founded from a single colonising event which began in Cape York in far north Queensland more than 30,000 years ago. (ABC News: Tom Forbes)

Dr Westaway said it was important the genomic information gleaned from the study would remain the property of the Indigenous communities.

Co-author Ms Colleen Wall, a senior Aboriginal woman of the Dauwa Kau’bvai nation from the Mary River catchment area in south east Queensland said she was pleased women were well represented as collaborators in the study, as in the past academics had mainly worked with men.

“It has been difficult over the years for Aboriginal women to maintain their senior status in a mainstream society and be invited to sit at the table to negotiate our issues,” she said.

Ms Wall said the study was very important to Aboriginal people.

“As a society we already believe that we are the oldest race on Earth, and from my point of view this research goes some way towards proving that,” she said.

Ms Wall said the genetic information could help in properly repatriating Aboriginal remains.

“This information coupled with the technology now used to assist in identifying where our human remains come from exactly, is exciting,” Ms Wall said.

“It means that all our old people who are still in collecting institutions across the world may be able to come home and be on their own specific country, not in a museum somewhere in Australia.

“Placing them as close to country as possible will settle them down.”

Mr Thomas Wales, an Indigenous elder from the Cape York community of Mapoon and co-author, said the study helped him “learn more about my people, myself and my land.”

“We have an oral history, that everyone knows, and you can lose all of your oral (history),” said Mr Wales.

“Science, DNA and carbon dating … you can keep hold of things. Tell us about our past.”

YouTube: Professor Eske Willerslev discusses the genetic history of Aboriginal Australians. Supplied: Natural History Museum, University of Copenhagen

Topics: science-and-technology, evolution, genetics, indigenous-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander, australia

First posted

Save

23 thoughts on “World-first genome study reveals rich history of Aboriginal Australians

  1. My wife and i ended up being now fortunate Emmanuel could complete his researching by way of the ideas he discovered out of your blog. It is now and again perplexing just to choose to be releasing guidelines which often many people may have been making money from. So we already know we’ve got you to thank because of that. These illustrations you’ve made, the simple website navigation, the friendships your site help instill – it’s everything wonderful, and it’s really helping our son and us reason why this situation is exciting, and that is wonderfully essential. Thank you for the whole lot!

  2. Thank you for all of the efforts on this blog. My niece take interest in working on investigations and it is easy to see why. My partner and i learn all relating to the compelling manner you make powerful guidance through the website and foster contribution from other individuals about this subject matter then our favorite daughter is really starting to learn so much. Take pleasure in the remaining portion of the year. You have been performing a great job.

  3. adidas nmd says:

    This actually answered my drawback, thank you!

  4. My husband and i got really comfortable that Emmanuel managed to complete his basic research using the ideas he made in your site. It is now and again perplexing to simply be giving freely thoughts most people might have been trying to sell. We really realize we need the writer to thank because of that. All of the explanations you have made, the simple site menu, the friendships you make it possible to engender – it’s many awesome, and it’s letting our son in addition to our family do think this topic is interesting, and that is very serious. Many thanks for all!

  5. A lot of thanks for every one of your efforts on this web page. Kim delights in managing internet research and it’s really obvious why. We all learn all relating to the compelling means you render powerful solutions on this web site and therefore increase participation from people on that point while our own daughter has always been starting to learn a great deal. Enjoy the remaining portion of the new year. You are performing a very good job.

  6. I’m just commenting to make you know what a amazing discovery my friend’s daughter experienced browsing your blog. She even learned too many issues, which included how it is like to possess an excellent coaching nature to make certain people without problems learn about various tricky subject matter. You actually surpassed our expected results. Many thanks for distributing the effective, trustworthy, educational and in addition easy thoughts on your topic to Kate.

  7. Thank you for each of your efforts on this blog. My mom delights in going through investigation and it is obvious why. A number of us hear all relating to the dynamic way you make rewarding guides by means of this blog and therefore increase response from other ones on that area so our favorite simple princess has been becoming educated a great deal. Take advantage of the remaining portion of the year. You’re performing a fantastic job.

  8. My spouse and i ended up being absolutely fortunate that Emmanuel could carry out his researching from your precious recommendations he received from your site. It’s not at all simplistic to simply possibly be giving away secrets and techniques which usually people today might have been making money from. And now we fully grasp we now have the blog owner to be grateful to because of that. The explanations you made, the simple website navigation, the friendships you can assist to engender – it is most exceptional, and it’s aiding our son in addition to us consider that this issue is interesting, which is certainly particularly important. Many thanks for all the pieces!

  9. red bottoms says:

    I simply desired to appreciate you all over again. I’m not certain what I would have accomplished in the absence of these tips contributed by you about my subject. It truly was the terrifying matter for me, but finding out a specialised manner you dealt with the issue forced me to jump over joy. Now i’m thankful for this service and trust you are aware of a powerful job that you’re doing instructing many others with the aid of your blog post. I am certain you haven’t met any of us.

  10. I and my friends appeared to be looking at the nice key points on the website and so unexpectedly I got a terrible suspicion I never thanked the blog owner for those tips. All of the ladies are already as a result excited to read them and already have pretty much been taking advantage of them. Appreciation for being indeed considerate as well as for finding certain perfect ideas most people are really desperate to be informed on. My very own honest apologies for not expressing appreciation to sooner.

  11. This is the appropriate weblog for anybody who desires to seek out out about this topic. You understand a lot its almost exhausting to argue with you (not that I actually would want匟aHa). You undoubtedly put a new spin on a subject thats been written about for years. Great stuff, just great!

  12. My spouse and i got quite more than happy that Albert could carry out his research from your ideas he came across out of your web site. It is now and again perplexing to simply be handing out facts which usually many people have been trying to sell. And we all acknowledge we have the website owner to thank for this. All the illustrations you have made, the easy site navigation, the friendships you can make it easier to engender – it’s everything astonishing, and it’s letting our son in addition to us consider that this subject is satisfying, which is particularly fundamental. Many thanks for all the pieces!

  13. Thanks for all of your effort on this website. Gloria really loves carrying out research and it is easy to understand why. A lot of people hear all relating to the powerful form you convey advantageous strategies on your blog and welcome participation from some others on this idea and our favorite simple princess is truly becoming educated a great deal. Take advantage of the remaining portion of the new year. Your doing a really great job.

  14. I must voice my passion for your kindness supporting folks that must have help with the concern. Your real dedication to getting the message all through came to be exceedingly useful and has surely helped people just like me to arrive at their goals. Your personal insightful hints and tips entails a whole lot to me and much more to my office colleagues. Thanks a ton; from everyone of us.

  15. I simply wanted to develop a small remark to express gratitude to you for all of the nice concepts you are sharing on this site. My time-consuming internet lookup has finally been recognized with wonderful suggestions to go over with my colleagues. I ‘d assert that most of us readers actually are definitely blessed to dwell in a good network with so many brilliant people with very beneficial pointers. I feel really blessed to have come across your web site and look forward to tons of more amazing minutes reading here. Thank you again for a lot of things.

  16. Thanks so much for giving everyone remarkably marvellous possiblity to check tips from this site. It can be very great and also jam-packed with amusement for me and my office friends to search your blog no less than thrice a week to see the new stuff you will have. Of course, I am also always happy for the astounding tactics you serve. Some 4 ideas in this posting are without a doubt the most impressive we’ve had.

  17. I really wanted to type a quick remark so as to thank you for some of the remarkable suggestions you are giving out here. My particularly long internet lookup has finally been recognized with really good concept to write about with my guests. I would tell you that many of us visitors are very blessed to be in a fabulous site with many brilliant professionals with interesting principles. I feel pretty happy to have discovered the webpage and look forward to many more pleasurable moments reading here. Thank you once again for a lot of things.

  18. mlb jerseys says:

    I precisely needed to thank you so much all over again. I am not sure what I would’ve undertaken in the absence of the type of tricks shared by you about such a field. It seemed to be the distressing issue in my circumstances, however , finding out the specialized manner you managed that forced me to leap over joy. I will be happier for the assistance and hope that you really know what a great job you’re undertaking educating people using your blog post. I know that you have never come across any of us.

  19. I and my buddies were actually viewing the best recommendations found on your web site and immediately I got an awful feeling I had not thanked the blog owner for those secrets. Those ladies ended up certainly excited to read through them and have in effect quite simply been using these things. Appreciation for really being simply considerate and for deciding on variety of fabulous issues millions of individuals are really eager to know about. My very own sincere regret for not expressing appreciation to earlier.

  20. nike zoom says:

    I enjoy you because of every one of your work on this blog. Kate delights in setting aside time for investigation and it’s really easy to see why. My partner and i notice all of the compelling ways you present great suggestions via your website and recommend participation from other individuals on this issue and our favorite child is starting to learn a lot. Enjoy the remaining portion of the year. You’re the one performing a first class job.

  21. I simply had to appreciate you again. I do not know the things I would have carried out without the ways provided by you concerning this theme. Completely was a real scary difficulty in my circumstances, but encountering this specialized avenue you solved the issue took me to weep over contentment. Now i am happy for the work and even believe you comprehend what a powerful job that you’re doing teaching the rest with the aid of a site. More than likely you have never encountered all of us.

  22. I and my buddies were found to be digesting the best tricks from your web site and then unexpectedly came up with a horrible feeling I never expressed respect to the web site owner for them. These ladies had been as a result excited to read through them and already have truly been using those things. I appreciate you for truly being very kind and for picking variety of marvelous themes most people are really wanting to learn about. My personal honest apologies for not expressing gratitude to sooner.

  23. I happen to be commenting to let you be aware of of the incredible experience my friend’s child experienced reading your web site. She learned a lot of issues, which include what it’s like to possess a marvelous coaching nature to make other individuals clearly grasp some tricky things. You truly did more than our expectations. I appreciate you for producing such good, healthy, informative and as well as easy tips on this topic to Kate.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *