The matrilineal genographic family tree is mapped out through markers in the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Unlike most DNA, mtDNA is inherited from one parent only – the mother. This means that everyone’s mtDNA has exactly the same sequence of 16,569 nucleotides as their mother and, consequently, to their mother’s mother and so on. However, on the very rare occasions where a mutation occurs, a child’s mtDNA will be different to their mother’s at one nucleotide, e.g. a G in the sequence might become an A. If that child is a female, she will then pass this mutation on to her children and they, if they are female, will pass it on to their children, and so on. Any of her descendants along a continuously female line of descent will carry the same mutation. Hence, it can be determined from the presence of that particular mutation in anyone’s mtDNA sequence that they share that same female individual in whom the mutation first occurred as a common ancestor along their maternal line of descent.

Each time a mutation occurs, a new branch or subbranch (haplogroup or subclade) is formed in the matrilinear genographic family tree, with all bearers of the mutation belonging to the same branch. By tracking the geographic locations of these haplogroups, particularly among indigenous populations, the shared ancestry of different population groups can be determined and the long-term patterns of human migration estimated.

Kai's matrilinear genographic family tree, as determined by his mtDNA markers, is that of haplogroup M*.

The haplogroup M cluster is found in south Asia, east Asia, and Australasia. It is one of the two broadest branchest of the mitochondrial tree of haplogroups found outside Africa (the other being N). It dates to approximately 70,000 years ago. M* designates those that belong to the M lineage but not to one of its as yet well-defined sub-branches—D, G, C, Z or M1.

"Mitochondrial Eve", a woman who lived in Africa approximately 150,000 years ago, is a common ancestor of all living humans. All existing mtDNA diversity began with Eve and it remains greatest, and consequently oldest, in Africa.

Haplogroup L3 is an early offshoot from Eve's mitochondrial genetic sequence. L3 appears only in Africa.

Around 80,000 years ago two mutations gave rise to two offshoots from L3 - the M and N haplogroups from which all subsequent Eurasian lineages are descended.

About 50,000 years ago a period of warmer temperatures and moist climate made significant parts of the Sahara region habitable. This climatic shift likely spurred hunter-gatherer migrations into the Sahara and thence out of Africa into the Middle East. When the climate became dry again, the "Saharan Gateway" closed and isolated them from Africa. Instead they spread around the rest of the world.

M is a macro-haplogroup whose various subgroups are found in Asia and America, but not in Europe. At the same level of the ancestral tree is N, the macro-haplogroup from which all European lineages derived but which also has many lineages in Asia.

Other sub-groups of M—C, D, G and Z —migrated in a generally northward and eastward direction after the migration out of Africa following paths through central and northern Asia becoming the dominant haplogroups found in Siberia but also common further south in Mongolia, Japan, China and parts of Southeast Asia. People of the C and D haplogroups eventually continued their migration through Siberia, crossing the Bearing Strait and peopling America.

Haplogroup M* ancestors were part of a great South Asian coastal migration that took place around 50,000 years ago. Hunter-gatherers skilled at seaside living spread along the coasts of the southern Arabian Peninsula, India, Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. This southern coastline was drowned by rising sea levels at the end of the last ice age, likely eliminating most archaeological evidence of the migration. M* is the dominant haplogroup in India, especially southern India. It is common in Southeast Asia and also accounts for significant proportions of the populations further north in China, Mongolia and Japan.

Archaeological evidence shows that fast moving migrants of the southern coastal M* migration reached Australia 40,000 to 60,000 years ago. During the glacial Pleistocene era (around 50,000 years ago) sea levels were up to 100 meters lower than today. Much of present day Indonesia was joined in a single landmass known as Sunda and was separated by only 100 kilometers from the landmass known as Sahul, comprised of present day Australia and New Guinea. This facilitated the migration through the islands of Indonesia and to Australia.

Although people of  the M* lineage migrated through Indonesia to Australia, Indonesia's current population (including Kai's ancestors) is believed to have descended from more recent migrations, largely by those also of the M* lineage whose earlier migrations had only taken them as far as India or Southeast Asia. The major wave of migration, from which most of Indonesia's population seem to have descended, began about 5500 years ago from China and Southeast Asia bringing with it the Austronesian language family of which the major present-day Indonesia languages are part. Austronesian languages are also found in Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia and Malaysia, indicating that it may have spread from these locations before also spreading into the South Pacific islands.

However, Indonesia is believed to have been inhabited earlier than this by migrations from India or Burma. Subsequent to the the Austronesian migrations, from the first century AD, Indonesia came under influence, likely including migration, from India. This influenced the rise of Buddhist and Hindu kingdoms such as the Sailendra kingdom in Java. Later still it was heavily influenced by Arab traders bringing Islamic religion and cultural influences.

Recent Y-chromosome research on Balinese men suggests a genetic contribution to the population of about 2.2% from pre-neolithic, pre-Austronesian lineages, 83.7% from the Austronesian migrations and 12% from the more recent migrations from India.*

Kai's 16223T marker (nucleotide T at position 16223 of the mtDNA) is characteristic of the M haplogroup. The marker 16129A is characteristic of the subclade M5 which is found with significant frequency in southern India. The marker 16209C is characteristic of the subclade M7a which is found in east Asia - China, the Philippines and southeast Asia. However, as M5 and M7a are separate branches, he would belong to only one of these groups, probably with one of these markers arising from the mutation which founded one of these subgroups with the other being a case of homoplasy (the same mutation arising independently by coincidence).  Since 16129 is a known mutation "hotspot", it is more likely that he is M7a, as marked by 16209A, with the mutation at 16129 being a case of homoplasy. Research will be taking place over the next few years to gain more information about the M* haplogroup's sub-groups and about Indonesian migrations.

More information:

Kai's MtDNA data

National Geographic's Genographic Project

Family Tree DNA

DNA Heritage

Above: is a phylogenetic tree of some of the main mtDNA haplogroups with the numbers that represent their characteristic mutation marked on the branches. (Lluis Quintana-Murci, 'Where East Meets West: The Complex mtDNA Landscape of the Southwest and Central Asian Corridor, American Journal of Human Genetics, issue 74, 2004.)
Below: is a map of the major human migrations out of Africa colour-coded by time period. The earliest of them, the M* southern coastal migration is marked in red. (L. David Roper, <>)


*Karafet, Tatiana M. "Balinese Y-Chromosome Perspective on the Peopling of Indonesia: Genetic Contributions from Pre-Neolithic Hunter-Gatherers, Austronesian Farmers, and Indian Traders" Human Biology - Volume 77, Number 1, February 2005, pp. 93-114 Wayne State University Press.