Insights into the demographic history of Asia from common ancestry and admixture in the genomic landscape of present-day Austroasiatic speakers

Debashree Tagore, Farhang Aghakhanian, Rakesh Naidu, Maude E. Phipps, Analabha Basu

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

    Abstract

    Background: The demographic history of South and Southeast Asia (S&SEA) is complex and contentious, with multiple waves of human migration. Some of the earliest footfalls were of the ancestors of modern Austroasiatic (AA) language speakers. Understanding the history of the AA language family, comprising of over 150 languages and their speakers distributed across broad geographical region in isolated small populations of various sizes, can help shed light on the peopling of S&SEA. Here we investigated the genetic relatedness of two AA groups, their relationship with other ethno-linguistically distinct populations, and the relationship of these groups with ancient genomes of individuals living in S&SEA at different time periods, to infer about the demographic history of this region. Results: We analyzed 1451 extant genomes, 189 AAs from India and Malaysia, and 43 ancient genomes from S&SEA. Population structure analysis reveals neither language nor geography appropriately correlates with genetic diversity. The inconsistency between “language and genetics” or “geography and genetics” can largely be attributed to ancient admixture with East Asian populations. We estimated a pre-Neolithic origin of AA language speakers, with shared ancestry between Indian and Malaysian populations until about 470 generations ago, contesting the existing model of Neolithic expansion of the AA culture. We observed a spatio-temporal transition in the genetic ancestry of SEA with genetic contribution from East Asia significantly increasing in the post-Neolithic period. Conclusion: Our study shows that contrary to assumptions in many previous studies and despite having linguistic commonality, Indian AAs have a distinct genomic structure compared to Malaysian AAs. This linguistic-genetic discordance is reflective of the complex history of population migration and admixture shaping the genomic landscape of S&SEA. We postulate that pre-Neolithic ancestors of today’s AAs were widespread in S&SEA, and the fragmentation and dissipation of the population have largely been a resultant of multiple migrations of East Asian farmers during the Neolithic period. It also highlights the resilience of AAs in continuing to speak their language in spite of checkered population distribution and possible dominance from other linguistic groups.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number61
    Number of pages19
    JournalBMC Biology
    Volume19
    Issue number1
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 29 Mar 2021

    Keywords

    • Admixture
    • Ancient DNA
    • Austroasiatic
    • Genetic ancestry
    • Linguistic group
    • Migration

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