Recent human genetic studies have enlightened the complexity of the genetic landscape present in New Guinean populations. From a direct genetic inheritance from the Out-of-Africa dispersal ~ 80 to 60 000 years ago, to the gene flows from Austronesian groups during the Late Holocene, and even to the high percentage (5%) of genetic introgression from an extinct Homo species named Denisova, the biological diversity of New Guineans is unique. It is a result of the various human migrations to the island but also within its territory, composed by a variety of different ecosystems. These processes created high genetic differentiations between New Guinean groups, a pattern that superficially mirrors the one drawn from the linguistic diversity, one of the highest in the world, with more than 900 languages. Despite these results, major questions remain unresolved regarding New Guinean genetic and phenotypic history.
Since 2016, thanks to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the University of Papua New Guinea, we have developed an international and interdisciplinary research project aiming to reconstruct the demographic and adaptive history of New Guinean populations. A particular focus is put on the pattern of admixture between Denisova and Homo sapiens, and on the interaction between the New Guinean and Non-New Guinean populations, in order to characterize the role of culture and environment in structuring the current human biological landscape of the island.
Papua New Guinean demographic and adaptive history
Following ethical regulation from Papua New Guinea and local communities involvement, the project collects human biological samples and phenotypic data (>40 anthropometric and physiological data) from Papua New Guinean participants to capture the cultural/linguistic/environmental diversity of the New Guinean populations.
The sampling strategy is based on (1) a grid sampling approach to have sampling “spot”/village (5 to 10 individuals per spot) covering the 22 provinces of PNG taking into account population density data, and (2) larger sampling from key region of PNG in term of population history (river corridors, Waghy valley, specific location in the lowland regions). Complex computational modeling will use the high quality and quantity of biological and anthropological data generated within the project to investigate the population migration, demographic events and adaptive history of the populations from Papua New Guinea.