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More than a decade of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) studies have given the 'Polynesian motif' renowned status as a marker for tracing the late-Holocene expansion of Austronesian speaking populations. Despite considerable research on the Polynesian motif in Oceania, there has been little equivalent work on the western edge of its expansion - leaving major issues unresolved regarding the motif's evolutionary history. This has also led to considerable uncertainty regarding the settlement of Madagascar. In this study, we assess mtDNA variation in 266 individuals from three Malagasy ethnic groups: the Mikea, Vezo, and Merina. Complete mtDNA genome sequencing reveals a new variant of the Polynesian motif in Madagascar; two coding region mutations define a Malagasy-specific sub-branch. This newly defined 'Malagasy motif' occurs at high frequency in all three ethnic groups (13-50%), and its phylogenetic position, geographic distribution, and estimated age all support a recent origin, but without conclusively identifying a specific source region. Nevertheless, the haplotype's limited diversity, similar to those of other mtDNA haplogroups found in our Malagasy groups, best supports a small number of initial settlers arriving to Madagascar through the same migratory process. Finally, the discovery of this lineage provides a set of new polymorphic positions to help localize the Austronesian ancestors of the Malagasy, as well as uncover the origin and evolution of the Polynesian motif itself.

Original publication




Journal article


Eur J Hum Genet

Publication Date





575 - 581


Base Sequence, DNA, Mitochondrial, Evolution, Molecular, Genetic Variation, Genetics, Population, Haplotypes, Humans, Molecular Sequence Data, Phylogeny, Polymorphism, Genetic, Polynesia