Western Australian Nobel Laureate Professor Barry Marshall and his University of Western Australia colleague Dr Helen Windsor have joined an international team of researchers to trace human prehistory in the Pacific in a unique way - following in the ‘footsteps' of the common stomach bacterium Professor Marshall swallowed to prove his prize-winning theory.
While archaeological remains, language and genetic studies have yielded clues to other researchers about the first human migrations from Africa about 60,000 years ago, Professor Marshall, Dr Windsor and their team have linked human habitation in the Pacific region to the development of two different strains of Helicobacter pylori.
The research article, "The Peopling of the Pacific from a Bacterial Perspective", will be published in the prestigious journal Science this week.
Professor Marshall, of The University of Western Australia's School of Biomedical, Molecular and Chemical Sciences, and one of the article's co-authors, said the research was significant because it revealed that the bacterium, also known as H. pylori, had split into two distinct populations, hpSahul and hspMaori.
The split was in accordance with two prehistoric migrations in the Pacific, with one reaching New Guinea and Australia and the other extending through Melanesia and through to the Polynesian islands.
"Our results lend support for two distinct waves of migration into the Pacific," the article states.
"First, early migrations to New Guinea and Australia accompanied by hpSahul and second, a much later dispersal of hspMaori from Taiwan through the Pacific by the Malayo-Polynesian-speaking Lapita culture."
In 2005, Professor Marshall and Emeritus Professor Robin Warren were awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine when they proved H. pylori and not stress or spicy food caused stomach ulcers.
Professor Marshall and Dr Windsor's Science article co-authors include researchers from Germany's Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science in Berlin and Fritz-Kortner-Bogen in Munich, the US's Baylor College of Medicine and Michael E DeBakey VA Medical Centre in Houston, the Pasteur Institutes in Senegal and New Caledonia, Taiwan's Kaoshiung Medical University, Russia's Republic Hospital, Papua New Guinea Institute of Medical Research, and Ireland's University College in Cork.
Kris Laurie (Manager, Nobel Laureates Office) (+61 8) 9382 2686 / (+61 4) 00 940 590
Sally-Ann Jones (UWA Public Affairs) (+61 8) 6488 7975 / (+61 4) 20 790 098