Genetic kinship found between Ainu and native Okinawans

November 01, 2012

By AKIRA HATANO/ Staff Writer

Geneticists have identified similar inherited traits between the Ainu of Hokkaido and native Okinawans, two peoples whose homelands are geographically poles apart.

Joint research by the National Institute of Genetics, the University of Tokyo and other institutions found shared characteristics in the genome of the two peoples that date back to before the arrival of settlers from the Asian continent.

Those migrants, the Yayoi, intermarried with the native Jomon people on Honshu and Kyushu. Most people in Japan today carry the genetic fingerprints of both groups. However, characteristics of the original Jomon genome are more prevalent in the Ainu and native Okinawans.

The research supports the theory that the origin of the Japanese people derives from the mixing of the Yayoi and Jomon peoples.

The researchers examined and compared the DNA of 36 Ainu, 35 native Okinawans, and 243 people living in Honshu and elsewhere in Japan. They also studied the DNA of ethnic Han Chinese living in Beijing. The Ainu DNA was from stored samples that had been collected about 30 years ago.

The analysis found that the DNA of the Ainu bore closest similarity to people who had lived for generations in Okinawa. There was increasing dissimilarity with--in this order--those from Honshu, South Koreans and Chinese.

Meanwhile, the researchers found that the DNA of people living in Honshu showed similarities with that of South Koreans and Chinese.

The findings were to be published Nov. 1 in the Journal of Human Genetics.

Naruya Saito, a professor at the Division of Population Genetics at the National Institute of Genetics, said, "While it is more common for genetic traits to diverge the further people live from each other, the results reflect the unique character of the Japanese archipelago."

By AKIRA HATANO/ Staff Writer
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