We Have Results!
Dear friends and supporters,
There's lots of happy news I'd like to share with you now, and with it, I hope you may forgive me for having neglected to share our progress for a while.
After we received our approval from the ethical review board at last, Matthew quickly set out on our first field trip to gather samples. And he was successful! He visited a total of nine villages, with a large majority of the samples from Mbetta, Lebock, Njungo, Nveh, Njentse, and Azi. He collected a total of 204 samples, and would have brought back more if he hadn't run out of kits. For each sample, we have a signed consent form, and a data sheet full of detailed information on the DNA donor and his family history. Matthew has scanned all of those 408 sheets, and sent me the electronic copies.
These samples were all then shipped to YSEQ in Berlin, where the DNA is being extracted and tested as quickly as Thomas and Astrid can manage, given the other demands of their business. As anyone who has experience with YSEQ knows, that's pretty fast! They have already run 17-marker STR tests (their Alpha panel) on 116 of the samples. The results of those tests clearly show the highly distinctive A00 haplotype in no less than twenty of the samples tested so far! That means seventeen percent of the 116. I'd been hoping the amount of A00 might, in the best of cases, reach ten percent!
There are some striking patterns in the results already. 85% of the A00 so far are from the Bangwa (Nweh) people, and 15% from the Nkongho-Mbo. This is despite the fact that nearly 57% of the samples collected were from Mbo, and only 37% were from Bangwa. Once all the results have been fully tabulated, we can provide more complete statistics. It will take a while to transcribe all the rich data from those handwritten sheets into electronic spreadsheets.
So at the moment, we have 88 more samples yet to be tested in the coming days, and this is speaking only of the STR tests. These samples are from places where we expect the rate of A00 to be at least as high, if not higher than some of those already tested.
Some SNP testing has already begun. The first six A00 that we found have been tested for two SNPs. One was FGC25576, found in a Perry family sample; it's one of the SNPs defining our proposed A00a haplogroup. The other was A4985, found in a Mbo sample (before this project), one of the SNPs that define our proposed A00b. Here are the results:
We're excited to see that sample #3086 is negative for both SNPs, though his haplotype has only one difference, 14-31 at DYS389I & DYS389II, as the Mbo have, instead of 13-30 like the rest of the Bangwa. His line may have branched off at least a little before the split between those two other groups. Obviously, we'll want to do more in-depth SNP testing, which will start soon.
The pattern seen above also tends to confirm the hypothesis I've mentioned in the past, that the Perry family are more closely related to the Bangwa than to the Mbo.
All the other A00 we find will also be tested for those same two SNPs, and then we'll evaluate our options for further testing of those samples.
What's next? Matthew would like to head back to the field quite soon, in the second half of October, when the school where he teaches has a break. Our current plan is for him to visit the region of the Bamileke people. Matthew, an ethno-historian, has said "The similarity in names, language, dancing style and all other aspects of life suggest that the Bangwa are 90 percent Bamileke." By testing a good number of Bamileke, we'll be able to see whether the heritage they share includes A00, or not. It is possible that the A00 among the Bangwa comes from the indigenous people who originally inhabited the hills, before they arrived several centuries ago, or it could also have been present among the Bamileke earlier. Our results should give strong evidence to answer that question.
The next field trips should be even more exciting. One of our goals is to collect the most diverse samples of A00 possible, to uncover its internal structure. By sequencing the Y-DNA of A00 lines that have diverged and settled in different parts of Cameroon, we should be able to get a good idea of when those different lineages had a common ancestor, and understand better how the peoples among whom it's found are related.
One trip will take Matthew westward into the lowland regions close to Nigeria, where the Banyangi and Ejagham peoples live, toward the Cross River, home of the endangered Cross River Gorilla. These villages are also on the roads that led to the old Nigerian port of Calabar, where captives from Cameroon's highlands, including some Bangwa, were sold into slavery in the past. He has never before sampled in the western regions, and only 16 Banyangi have been tested in his past research, but there are versions of Bangwa history which say that these peoples make up a significant element of their founders. Members of the A0 haplogroup have been found in Nigeria, but we have no idea yet whether A00 are also found in that direction. The famed Iwo Eleru cave is in southern Nigeria, where a skull with archaic features has been found that dates to only 13,000 years ago, suggesting long survival of diverse humans in that region.
In his other trip, he'll seek to sample members of several of the different Pygmy communities of Cameroon, who live to the South and East. Among the Pygmy peoples, Matthew collected 53 samples in 2006, and two of them belonged to A00! These communities are far from the highlands where the Bangwa and Mbo live, so we can expect that their A00 will be quite distinct. This should be extremely interesting!
In order to make those trips possible, we'll be needing to undertake a new fundraiser, as almost two years have passed since our first ones. It will also be needed to allow us to test the Bamileke samples. The funds that currently remain to us will cover only the fieldwork with the Bamileke, but not the lab work. Thomas and Astrid will gladly keep the samples for us until we have the funds. We hope our friends will share our satisfaction with the results we're obtaining so far, and will want us to finish what we've set out to do.
In the meantime, I hope you'll all follow our updates, and see some photos from the field trip, on Facebook, at http://www.facebook.com/A00.Cameroon.Project.