On Stomach Bugs and Migration

Bugs and tongues reveal human march across Pacific

19:00 22 January 2009 by Ewen Callaway, New Scientist

They probably weren't looking for a tropical vacation, but island-hopping people from present day Taiwan settled the south Pacific beginning about 5000 years ago.

Two new studies of language and parasites suggest that these migrants populated the Pacific from the Philippines to Hawaii.

They moved in fits and starts, probably limited by technological advances such as sailing and navigation, says Russell Gray, a biologist at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, whose team recorded the evolution of 400 languages as if they were organisms.

The outcome, a network of languages, bears a striking resemblance to another network displaying relatedness among different strains of a bacterium that causes stomach ulcers, which was also collected from Pacific islanders.

"It's nice that the words that come out of our mouth and the things that come out of our stomachs speak of the same kind of history," Gray says.


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