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By Michael Field

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (August 10, 1998 - Agence France-Presse)--- Taiwan was more than likely the original homeland of the Polynesian people, genetic research released Monday reveals.

The origin of the Polynesians who inhabit most of the South Pacific islands, including Hawaii and New Zealand, has long been a mystery. Like the New Zealand Maori, a Polynesian people, they identify "Hawaiki" as a homeland without ever being clear where that was.

But research using human deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is unraveling the secrets.

By analyzing DNA, Victoria University scientist Geoffrey Chambers claims it is possible to show the Polynesians, including New Zealand's Maori, had island hopped their way from Asia, through the Philippines, Indonesia, West Polynesia, East Polynesia and finally to New Zealand.

"This result is consistent with Taiwan as point of origin," he said.

Last month other DNA research showed Maori must have reached New Zealand by deliberate voyaging, rather than accidentally -- ending another mystery.

Chambers said in his research report that he used DNA data originally collected by other researchers at the Institute of Molecular Systematics who were studying genetic protection against alcoholism.

"There is an exact living record of these voyages of colonization, preserved in the DNA of their modern-day descendants who are still living in these places along the route," said Chambers, a reader in the university's school of biological sciences.

He said that forensic DNA profiles carried out at Victoria had also found that Polynesians in general, and New Zealand Maori in particular, showed less genetic diversity than many other ethnic groups.

The overall probability of finding two individuals with a specific DNA profile was found to be one in 112 million for Asians, one in 47 million for Caucasians, one in 6.7 million for Polynesians and one in 2.8 million for Maori.

Chambers said this was consistent with a history of recent migration, with each stage of migration a highly selective re-sampling of the original gene pool, because each voyage was probably made by a relatively small group of people.

Last month scientists at Massey University north of here said DNA research there suggested that about 70 women were among New Zealand's founding Polynesian population.

The research leader, Associate Professor Rosalind Murray-McIntosh of the university's institute of molecular biosciences, said the results excluded the possibility that one or two canoes of castaways formed the first Maori population.

"These new results are consistent with deliberate Polynesian exploration and then settlement of Pacific Islands," Murray-McIntosh said.

Chambers said the direct ancestors of New Zealand Maori came from island groups north-east of New Zealand.

Comparisons of a key set of three genes related to the metabolism of alcohol, ADH 2-2, ADH 3-1, and ALDH 2-2, showed the relatively high frequency of ADH 2-2 found in New Zealand Maori, (0.42), linked them with Cook Islanders (0.50) and ultimately with Oriental populations (0.72).

"Data for the ALDH 2 gene implicates Taiwan as an initial staging post," Chambers said. The frequency of the ALDH 2-2 form of the gene was 0.30 in Japan and China, but only 0.05 in Taiwan, and zero in Samoa, Rarotonga, and in New Zealand Maori.

"This result is consistent with Taiwan as point of origin," he said.

Information obtained elsewhere on two important mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) markers showed those markers gradually became more prevalent along the deduced migration route until they were predominant in New Zealand Maori.

Three rare mtDNA linkages found among Polynesians, were known to come from Melanesia, elsewhere in Oceania (0.6 percent) and South America.

"This South American component is very interesting and may even indicate that at some point ancestors of the Maori traveled from their homes on Pacific Islands, to South America, and returned after intermarrying," Chambers said.

MtDNA is passed from mother to child and can be traced only to female forebears.

Michael J Field Agence France-Presse Auckland, New Zealand TEL: (64 21) 688-438 FAX: (64 21) 694-035 E-Mail: afp.nz@clear.net.nz WWW: http://www.afp.com/english/

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