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New Zealanders’ genetic diversity to be mapped

Students waiting for class

Thursday, 6 December 2012 1:29pm

Lisa_Matisoo_SmithJames Cook Research Fellowship recipient Professor Lisa Matisoo-Smith

A leading University of Otago biological anthropologist has won a prestigious two-year James Cook Research Fellowship to undertake the first-ever survey of the genetic diversity of New Zealand's population.

Department of Anatomy Professor Lisa Matisoo-Smith's project is titled: "The longest journey – from Africa to Aotearoa" and involves collecting DNA from around 1000 New Zealanders.  These samples will allow their migration histories to be revealed through analysis of variation in genetic markers passed down exclusively through the maternal and paternal lines respectively.

Professor Matisoo-Smith says the research will help map the many pathways our ancestors took that ultimately brought each of us here.

She intends to sample the five major urban populations of Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin, possibly combined with some smaller cities and towns.

"This project provides a unique opportunity to undertake a nation-wide 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."

Professor Matisoo-Smith says the research will provide a very interesting picture of the social history of a multicultural New Zealand.

"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 the Auckland or Wellington today.

"Also, Auckland is the most ethnically diverse region in the country based on self-identification. We will now be able to see how well this matches up genetic diversity as measured by mitochondrial DNA and Y chromosome diversity."

About James Cook Research Fellowships

James Cook Research Fellowships allow leading researchers to concentrate on their chosen research for two years without the additional burden of administrative and teaching duties. The fellowships are presented to researchers who demonstrate that they have achieved national and international recognition in their area of scientific research. The funding package annually is $100,000 plus GST and up to $10,000 plus GST in relevant expenses.

This year the Royal Society of New Zealand received proposals from 27 James Cook applicants spanning three broad research areas: biological sciences; physical sciences; and social sciences.

Three Assessment Panels scored the proposals and four Fellows were recommended for funding

For more information, contact:

Simon Ancell
Communications Adviser
University of Otago
Tel 03 479 5016
Email simon.ancell@otago.ac.nz

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