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Mountain Pygmies of Western New Guinea: A Morphological and Molecular Approach


The presence of “pygmy” or pygmoid groups among New Guinea populations has been the object of scientific interest since the end of the nineteenth century. Morphological and molecular data are used here to study western New Guinea population variability, focusing in particular on two pygmoid groups living in the eastern fringe highlands of Papua: the Una and the Ketengban. Various kinds of anthropometric data are examined, as well as height, weight, and body mass index, to carry out comparisons with nearby ethnic groups living in the highland and lowland regions. The Ketengban data were also compared with other data recorded 20 years before. The results of previous research on the sequencing of the mitochondrial DNA hypervariable segment 1 region and nuclear DNA nonrecombining Y-chromosome polymorphisms are presented. Both morphological and molecular studies involve adult subjects of both genders, representative of the same ethnic groups and/or geographic regions.

The pygmoid groups turn out to be significantly different from all other study groups, due to their small size, as confirmed by analysis of variance, although significant height and weight increments are observed with respect to those previously recorded. However, putative neutral genetic variation estimated from mitochondrial DNA and Y-chromosome markers support a recent shared common history between these pygmoid populations and the other central Papua groups (except for the Dani-Lani). These findings suggest that the short-stature phenotype is an independent secondary adaptation, possibly driven by an iodine-deficient environment, which leaves the potential for further investigations.

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