Madurai family traces its roots 70,000 years back: Bearers of 'M130' gene marker

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Madurai family traces its roots 70,000 years back: Bearers of 'M130' gene marker Narayanan Kannan 4/5/08 7:04 AM

April 04, 2008

Madurai family traces its roots 70,000 yrs back

By Kumar Chellappan
Chennai, April 3: A 30-year-old systems administrator hailing from a sleepy village close to Madurai in Tamil Nadu has been identified as one of the direct descendants of the first ever settlers in India, who had migrated from the African coast some 70,000 years ago.
The DNA of Virumandi Andithevar, one of the 700-odd inhabitants of Jothimanickam village, matched the white chromosome marker scientifically labelled "M130", which is a gene found only among the descendants of the African migrants who had spread across the world tens of thousands of years ago. "This young man and 13 members of his nine-generation clan carried the same marker in their genes. It means that his ancestors in all probability settled in this village several generations ago," said Prof. Rm Pitchappan, who led a team of scientists tracking the "M130" DNA and ended up at Virumandi's little house.
"M130 is actually present sporadically among the population along the Western Ghats and around Madurai," said Dr Pitchappan, who heads the School of Biological Sciences at Madurai Kamaraj University. His research was part of the "Genographic Project", a global initiative launched by National Geographic and a team of reputed scientists for unravelling the mystery of human migration. "The genetic studies carried out using M130 told us about the first human migration to India. We identified the marker of the first coastal migration in our Madurai samples. The search took us to Virumandi, who belongs to the Piramalai Kallar community, whose DNA matched M130, establishing him as one of the direct descendants of the first migrant from the African coast, who must have come here some 70,000 years ago," Dr Pitchappan told this newspaper.
Understandably, Virumandi is on cloud nine since learning from the professor that he is among the direct descendants of India's first family. "This is God's gift to me, to be told that my roots go back to 70,000 years. They used to say that our village of 700 people had spawned from just three ancestors and I had often wondered from where and when they came. Now I have the answer — they came 70,000 years ago from Africa," Virumandi said.
A graduate in science, he is now working as a systems administrator at a call centre in Trichy. The oldest man in Jothimanickam is about 90 years old and is full of stories of his robust grandparents, so is Virumandi's 60-year-old father. "Until recently, most of our activities and even marriages were confined to a radius of less than 10 km. We were such a closed clan," Virumandi told this newspaper.
It took five years for the Pitchappan team of 10 scientists to establish the DNA link between Virumandi and the first migrants to the subcontinent. The studies also proved that though the migration to India took place some 70,000 years ago, the first settlement in the South happened about 10,000 years later.
"More than half of the Australian aborigines carry this M130 gene. The marker is also present among some people in Philippines and the tribals of Malaysia," said Dr Pitchappan.
The Genographic Project will gather all data in collaboration with indigenous and traditional people around the world. The public is invited to join the project by purchasing a Genographic Project public participation kit. The proceeds from the sales go to further field research and the Genographic Legacy Fund, which in turn supports indigenous conservation and revitalisation projects.
Virumandi Andithevar is being presented before the media by the Discovery Channel in Chennai on Friday during the national launch of its serial The Story of India.

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