Kiwi DNA hunt aims to trace journeys

MATT STEWART SCIENCE
Last updated 05:00 08/12/2012

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If Auckland is our most multicultural city and Dunedin our most Scottish, then what's in Wellington's DNA?

New research aims to find out by mapping the nation's genetic heritage for the first time.

The research could provide a snapshot of the lineage of all human history, says biological anthropologist Lisa Matisoo-Smith, who is leading a two-year study: "The longest journey - from Africa to Aotearoa".

Starting next year, the survey will collect DNA from about 1000 Kiwis in Wellington, Auckland, Hamilton, Christchurch and Dunedin.

"For example, we will be able to see if the genetic history of the population of Dunedin, with its strong Scottish heritage, is significantly different from that of Auckland or Wellington," Professor Matisoo-Smith said.

"Wellington is the centre of government, so you might expect it to have more genetic diversity than Dunedin or Auckland.

"Is it different to Auckland, is it more international or cosmopolitan?"

The survey could also focus on self-identified ethnic communities, such as Italians in the Wellington suburb of Island Bay, Scandinavians in Dannevirke, Chinese in central Otago, Dalmatians in Kaipara or the French in Akaroa.

Prof Matisoo-Smith, who is of Estonian stock, emigrated from the United States 25 years ago and has a New Zealand-born daughter who has since returned to the US. She said her personal kinship was a good example of the mobility the study aimed to track.

The survey will trace migration histories by analysing variations in genetic markers.

"This project provides a unique opportunity to undertake a nationwide survey of New Zealand ancestry. In addition to collecting a DNA sample and basic personal information, we will also ask about birthplace, parents' and grandparents' first language, ethnic self-identification and similar socio-demographic data to that collected in the census."

She hoped the survey would engage the public for a "very interesting picture of the social history of a multicultural New Zealand".

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- The Dominion Post

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