Genetics Researchers Finds Native American DNA In Chamorros

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Likely source was Mexican-Europeans during Spanish era

By Maria Hernandez

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Jan. 27, 2016) – The lead scientist of a study examining the genetics of Chamorros said it was "a huge surprise" when researchers discovered a connection between Native Americans and the indigenous people of Guam and nearby Pacific islands.

Miguel Vilar, a molecular anthropologist and science writer, presented his findings in a lecture Tuesday at the University of Guam.

Vilar is the science manager for National Geographic’s Genographic Project, an initiative that seeks to use DNA from participants to discover human genetic roots.

No seat was left vacant in the crowded University lecture hall during his speech. Remaining audience members had to stand elbow-to-elbow along the sides of the room.

"At first I couldn’t figure out what it was," Vilar said, describing the discovery of Native American ancestry in Chamorro DNA. "I was thinking they were actually Native Americans that migrated over here."

But history books pointed to a more likely answer, he added. Long ago, people from the Mexico region came to Guam, and depending on when they came, they could’ve already been part of a mixed European-Native American gene pool, he said.

"Those were the people coming over and that would explain the Native American (genes)," he said. "But it was unexpected."

The study examined DNA from 200 participants that were collected in two separate time periods — the first being in the ’90s and ’00s. In that timeframe, DNA was collected from 122 individuals. Eighty-five were from Guam, 31 were from Saipan and six were from Rota.

The participants from the sample were Chamorro, Carolinian and a combination of the two.

In 2013, about 85 new participants from Guam submitted DNA samples. About 69 of the new samples were Chamorros.

Results from the study confirmed linguistic and archaeological evidence that Chamorros originated somewhere in Eastern Indonesia, Vilar said.

And, additionally, Vilar said the data showed Native American ancestry in Chamorro DNA.

That finding was "a huge surprise," he said.

In just about all of the strains of Chamorro DNA, Vilar said findings showed 3 to 4 percent of Native American ancestry.

"Some were as high as 7, some, 0 to 1 percent," he said. "Three to 4 percent was common."

Vilar said results of his research found Mexicans had about 50 to 70 percent Native American ancestry.

"Spanish people were bringing people over from Mexico by the 17th century, mixing with the Native American population in Mexico," he said.

Research findings also concluded that, on average, each Chamorro person in the study had about 20 percent European ancestry.

Vilar said it’s unclear what the DNA of a person who’s 100 percent Chamorro would look like at this point because of scientific and technological limitations.

Added insight into Chamorro DNA could be found if more Chamorros participated in the project, he said.

To find out more about the project and how to participate, individuals can visit

Vilar was the 29th speaker in the UOG presidential series lecture. The series has featured distinguished guest speakers who have shared their knowledge on various topics with the university community.

The lecture will be available on the University of Guam website next week, said university spokesman Jonas Macapinlac.

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