By P.T. Bopanna

A research paper published in an American science journal has ruled out that Kodavas (Coorgs) in Kodagu district of Karnataka have foreign origin, but opined that Kodavas are “as local as their neighbouring communities.”

A recent paper published in the open-source scientific journal BioRxiv summarized their findings of whole genome data from 111 US-based Kodavas.

This was part of a US Kodava Genome Initiative initiated by Kodira Dilip Chinnappa (in picture), a reputed genome scientist who has contributed immensely to several high-profile genome projects including the mapping of the first human genome.

A graduate of Indiana State/ Indiana University School of Medicine, Dilip is currently Head of Data Science at PureTech Health, a biotech company in Boston where he leads the biomarker discovery efforts for developing novel therapies for the diseases of the brain. 

A key finding of this study is that the present-day Kodavas have similar amounts of Western Eurasian ancestry as most South-western Indian populations, with no discernible genetic contributions from Greeks, Iranians, Scythians, or other Western Eurasian populations.

These findings suggest that Kodavas are as local as their neighbouring communities are in their own geographical locations.

Further, they emphasize that any oral histories must be assessed in the context of food, lifestyle, environment and geographical isolation, and not just based on genetic data.

The popular theories on the origin of Kodavas include, that they are descendants of Alexander the Great who invaded India to a band of Kurds from the Iraq region who fled to India to escape conversions into Islam.

This research was a collaboration of a team of well-known genomic scientists and anthropologists led by Prof. Maanasa Raghavan of University of Chicago. She is a well-known geneticist known for her work on genetic histories of South Asian populations.

Dr. Arjun Biddanda, the lead author is a young American-born Kodava scientist with expertise in ancestry and disease risk. The author list includes Dr. Anjaparavanda Naren, another prominent Kodava scientist who is known worldwide for his work on Cystic Fibrosis and gene therapy. He is the Director of the Cedars-Sinai Cystic Fibrosis Research Center in Los Angeles.

One of the limitations of this study is the lack of ancient DNA from the Kodavas.

A major contribution of this study is the creation of the first reference Kodava Genome Resource that can be used for future in-depth studies on population history, migration pattern and genomic medicine of the Kodavas.