Genetic study may rewrite history

Study shows surprising DNA composition in Polynesians.

A genetic study may rewrite history with new findings concerning the migration of Polynesians to South America.

Until recently, the idea that Polynesians contacted South American natives was still doubtful, as any variation in DNA found could have been due to when Europeans enslaved the natives when they arrived. However, a new study published in the journal Current Biology reveals that the first genetic study done on Polynesians from Easter Island shows that Polynesian DNA has a wide variety of South American DNA from as far back as the year 1500.

The study genotyped and analyzed >650,000 SNP markers for 27 native Rapanui. SNP is an acronym for small nucleotide polymorphism, which are sequences of DNA that vary amongst individuals. Essentially, when your DNA is replicated, small “copying” errors occur every so often, which is referred to as SNPs. These can help scientists determine genetic similarity because your “copying” errors will resemble those of genetically similar specimens, such as siblings.  Through genetic analysis, they found that around 76 per cent of that DNA came from Polynesian descent, about 3 per cent came from South America and 16 per cent came from Europeans. The interesting find was that the South American DNA portion dates back to about 19 to 23 generations ago, long before the “discovery” of the Easter Island made by the Europeans in 1722.

“By considering the distribution of local ancestry tracts of eight unrelated Rapanui, we found statistical support for Native American admixture dating to AD 1280–1495 and European admixture dating to AD 1850–1895,” says the report’s final summary. The statistical evidence shows a correlation but it doesn’t establish the flow of this traveling. The article does make it clear that Polynesians likely travelled to South America, but without further genetic research, it won’t be clear if South Americans travelled to Polynesia.

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