DNA Shows 70,000 Year Link

A 30-year-old systems administrator from a small village close to Madurai in Tamil Nadu has been identified as one of the direct descendants of the first ever settlers in India, who had migrated from the African coast some 70,000 years ago.

The DNA of Virumandi Andithevar, one of the circa 700 inhabitants of Jothimanickam village, matched the white chromosome marker scientifically labeled "M130", which is a gene found only among the descendants of the African migrants who had spread across the world tens of thousands of years ago. "This young man and 13 members of his nine-generation clan carried the same marker in their genes. It means that his ancestors in all probability settled in this village several generations ago," said Prof. Rm Pitchappan, who led a team of scientists tracking the "M130" DNA.

"M130 is actually present sporadically among the population along the Western Ghats and around Madurai," said Dr Pitchappan, who heads the School of Biological Sciences at Madurai Kamaraj University. His research was part of the "Genographic Project", a global initiative launched by National Geographic and a team of reputed scientists for unraveling the mystery of human migration.

"The genetic studies carried out using M130 told us about the first human migration to India. We identified the marker of the first coastal migration in our Madurai samples. The search took us to Virumandi, who belongs to the Piramalai Kallar community, whose DNA matched M130, establishing him as one of the direct descendants of the first migrant from the African coast, who must have come here some 70,000 years ago," Dr Pitchappan said.

Virumandi is elated with the news. "This is God’s gift to me, to be told that my roots go back to 70,000 years. They used to say that our village of 700 people had spawned from just three ancestors and I had often wondered from where and when they came. Now I have the answer — they came 70,000 years ago from Africa," Virumandi said.

It took five years to establish the DNA link between Virumandi and the first migrants to the subcontinent. The studies also proved that though the migration to India took place some 70,000 years ago, the first settlement in the South happened about 10,000 years later.

"More than half of the Australian aborigines carry this M130 gene. The marker is also present among some people in Philippines and the tribals of Malaysia," said Dr Pitchappan.

The Genographic Project will gather all data in collaboration with indigenous and traditional people around the world. The public is invited to join the project by purchasing a Genographic Project public participation kit. The proceeds from the sales go to further field research and the Genographic Legacy Fund, which in turn supports indigenous conservation and revitalization projects. from The Asian Age