Dr. Lin's Report

With Dr. Marie Lin in Taiwan, August, 2012

Dr. Marie Lin (林媽利founded the company Taiwan Environmental Medicine (台灣微測有限公司, www.taiwanancestry.com).  She is the pioneer in Taiwan for using genetic technology to study the populations in Taiwan.  She is also a controversial figure for asserting that 85% of people in Taiwan have genetic markers of the native tribal peoples.  I visited her in Taipei, Taiwan, in August, 2012.  Upon my request, one of her technicians drew my blood to test my ancestry (not samples from my mouth as stated in the report).  The tests were based on my Y-DNA, mtDNA, as well as my HLA-A, HLA-B, and HLA-DRB1.  HLA (human leukocyte antigen) is a group of genes located on chromosome 6, related to immune system function in humans.  

Starting as an authority on blood types and transfusion, Dr. Lin later became interested in genetics.  She used the term "blood" in Chinese interchangeably with DNA.  For this reason, her company includes analyses of blood types, which are not strictly relevant to direct paternal and maternal lineages, but important for understanding our genetic mix.  Her best known book is "我們流著不同的血液."  Literally, it could be translated as "there flow many kinds of blood in us." 

I received the test result through an email dated October 8, 2012, identifying my paternal haplogroup as O3a2c* and maternal haplogroup as M7b1.  O3a2c* is not the same as O-F871 from Geno 2.0, and M7b1 is also different from M7b5 of Geno 2.0.  It appears that the differences are partly due to different classifications and partly due to different genetic technologies and analyses.  The original report in Chinese is given in the following link.  Even though the report is signed by Dr. Lin, it was actually written by someone in her company.

    Report from Dr. Marie Lin

The first part of the report in which my Y-DNA and mtDNA markers are analyzed is not much different from the reports I have received from Genographic Project and Family Tree DNA.  My ancestry is traced from my paternal and maternal lineages to Africa.  What's new in the report is an analysis of my genetic markers in relationship with the populations in Taiwan.  The conclusion states that my maternal ancestors very likely belong to the Pingpu people (平埔族, Plains aborigines) and that my paternal ancestors likely belong to Taiwanese people (very likely the Pingpu people).

For a general discussion about native tribes or aborigines in Taiwan, please go to the Wikipedia webpage Taiwanese aborigines.

The conclusion about my maternal ancestors is generally in line with the my maternal lineage of M7 (and its subgroup).  The most important questions include: Who the Pingpu people are and whether or in what way the M7b1 (or M7b5) people are related to the Pingpu people.  In general, the Pingpu people is a social group but M7b1 (or M7b5) is a genetic group.  The former may include many genetic groups and the latter may be found in many other social groups.  A person who belongs to the M7b1 (or M7b5) group may not necessarily belong to the Pingpu people.  In would be easier to talk about genetic groups than about the fluid social groups (based more on social and cultural history and self-identification).

According to Dr. Lin's book and her report about my ancestry, the Pingpu people were formed in Southeast Asia and southern China, very likely many thousands of years ago.  My maternal ancestors, if they were Pingpu people, could have been Pingpu people before some of them migrated to Taiwan.  A genetic marker is due to mutation, and it may not change for thousands of years in Y-DNA and especially mtDNA.  It is hoped that in the future we can learn more about M7b1 (or M7b5) and how people of this group have migrated.

As for my paternal ancestors, it is not clear what is meant by "Taiwanese people" in the report.  It could include Hakkas, Hoklos, Pingpu people, and other groups of people.  I am not sure what is meant if my paternal ancestors could be Pingpu people.  Could the Pingpu people consist of people of both O3a2c* (or O-F871) for men and M7b1 (or M7b5) for women (and possibly many other genetic groups)?  Many Pingpu people practiced matriarchal family system.  Men of many paternal lineages might be married into the matriarchal families.  It is also possible that there was a long period of intermarriages among Pingpu people, Hoklos, and Hakkas when they were still in Southeast Asia or southern China.  Assuming that my paternal ancestors actually belonged to the Hakka group, as my father's genealogy indicates, my paternal lineage is very much in line with the migration from Africa through Central Asia to some parts of China.  I have to wait for more research about what O3a2c* (or O-F871) means and how the people of this group might have migrated.

As noted above, we are not sure about the different subgroups of M7b1, M7b5, O3a2c*, or O-F871 and why Geno 2.0 and Dr. Lin's company have come up with different subgroups for my Y-DNA and mtDNA.  The Geno 2.0 report states that it cannot say at this point the exact meanings of M7b5 or O-F871 or how these subgroups might have migrated.  I cannot find any good description of these subgroups on the Internet either.  Before these important questions are answered, any statement should not be taken as final.

The Pingpu people (also divided into several sub-tribes) are widely found in Taiwan, somewhat different from the tribes now living in the mountain areas.  When Hoklos and Hakkas arrived in Taiwan since about four hundred years ago, they encountered this large group of people who might have migrated from Southeast Asia about several thousand years earlier (some tribes might have migrated to Taiwan as early as 30,000 years ago).  Again, there were Intermarriages among these people in Taiwan.  Given the fact that the paternal and maternal lineages, even within five or ten generations, could be very complicated, it may not be a surprise, from the genetic point of view, that about 85% of Taiwanese people might have some genetic markers of the native tribes (not just Pingpu).  However, the exact percentage can be challenged on the basis of the criteria and statistical analyses that are used.  Moreover, the 85% does not mean that 85% of Taiwanese people are descendants of the native tribes in any exclusive sense.  One may inherit different DNA from different groups of people, thus becoming a descendant of many groups of people at the same time.  It is possible for someone to claim that over 90% or 95% of all people in Taiwan share the genetic markers of Hakka or Hoklo in some way.  For me, I could have genetic markers of Hakka, Hoklo, Pingpu, other social groups in Taiwan, in addition to Neanderthal and Denisovan.

Geno 2.0 has produced the "heatmaps" for M7 and M122, showing the distributions of these genetic groups in the world, which are found mainly in Asia.  It has not yet produced the heatmaps of M7b5 or O-F871.  It has produced the general categories of Northeast Asian and Southeast Asian to describe the genetic mix or makeup of East Asians.  Dr. Lin and others have produced some heatmap for Hoklos, Hakkas, Pingpu, and other social groups in Taiwan.  All the heatmaps are subject to further investigations and modifications.  It must be said that genetic heatmaps would be less controversial than heatmaps for social groups.  One important reason that Dr. Lin got into political controversy could be due to her considerable focus on social groups rather than strictly on genetic groups.

According to Geno 2.0, my general genetic mix is 69% Northeast Asian and 31% Southeast Asian.  I was quite surprised about this high percentage of Northeast Asian when I received the Geno 2.0 report after having read the report from Dr. Lin.  My genetic mix seems to be more like Japanese or Koreans or northeastern Chinese.  I am a little perplexed why Geno 2.0 and Dr. Lin's company give me somewhat different pictures of my genetic makeup.  It could be due to the inclusion of over 150,000 markers in the Geno 2.0 tests.  The more genetic markers are included, the better resolution we could get about my genetic mix.  There are about 600,000 participants in the Genographic Project.  The number is increasing.  When more people are tested, the pictures could become clearer.

In contrast, Dr. Lin's company is very much smaller, limited by financial resources, and the tests were based on only a few dozens of genetic markers from Y-DNA, mtDNA, and HLA.  It must be said, however, that Dr. Lin's DNA test included more genetic markers than the earlier Genographic Project, because it included the markers of HLA.  Dr. Lin's test also went into the subgroups of M122 and M7, but the earlier version of Genographic Project did not.  Since the earlier Genographic Project focussed on ancient human origins and migrations, there was no urgent need to dig into the subgroups further.  Dr. Lin's main focus was on the populations in Taiwan, so she had to go into the subgroups.  In the meantime she had to rely almost totally on other researches, including Genographic Project, about ancient human origins and migrations.  Genographic Project has gone very much ahead of Dr. Lin's company with Geno 2.0.

I greatly appreciate Dr. Lin's pioneering work and have read some of her works with great appreciation.  I was so interested in her works that I decided to visit her.  She had become deeply entangled in political debates about the identity of Taiwanese people and was attacked by some people who maintained that they were pure Hoklos, Hakkas, or Chinese.  Some might also object to her positions about human origins and migrations.  A genetic issue can become a controversial political, cultural, or religious debate.

In my view, genetics and politics should be properly separated.  Politics should not be based on ethnical or genetic identities or differences.  All ethnical and genetic groups should learn to live together as a whole under a properly developed political system.  Through thousands of years of migrations, Taiwan has continued to be a melting pot.  We can marvel that all humans are descendants of those people originated in Africa.  We share the same ancient ancestors.  With the new world fostered by accelerating technologies, the different branches of Homo sapients are brought back together closer and closer after expanding all over the globe, but our genetic mix, through tens of thousands of intermarriages and mutations, has become more and more complex.  Yet we are brothers and sisters or cousins in an important and fundamental sense.  

For anyone who is interested in his/her ancestry or human origins and migrations, I would strongly recommend National Geographic's Genographic Project.  This area of research is still at an early stage of development.  Many gaps and unknown areas need to be further investigated.  Hopefully, we will get a better picture in the future.

Not a geneticist in any way, I have found this adventure extremely mind-boggling and yet exhilarating.

© Sung-Peng Hsu 2011