Genetic Chaos

Friday, February 25, 2005

MtDNA from extinct Tainos and the peopling of the Caribbean

Tainos and Caribs were the inhabitants of the Caribbean when Columbus reached the Americas; both human groups became extinct soon after contact, decimated by the Spaniards and the diseases they brought. Samples belonging to pre-Columbian Taino Indians from the La Caleta site (Dominican Republic) have been analyzed, in order to ascertain the genetic affinities of these groups in relation to present-day Amerinds, and to reconstruct the genetic and demographic events that took place during the peopling of the Caribbean.

Twenty-seven bone samples were extracted and analyzed for mtDNA variation. The four major Amerindian mtDNA lineages were screened through amplification of the specific marker regions and restriction enzymatic digestion, when needed. The HVRI of the control region was amplified with four sets of overlapping primers and sequenced in 19 of the samples. Both restriction enzyme and sequencing results suggest that only two (C and D) of the major mtDNA lineages were present in the sample: 18 individuals (75%) belonged to the C haplogroup, and 6 (25%) to the D haplogroup. Sequences display specific substitutions that are known to correlate with each haplogroup, a fact that helped to reject the possibility of European DNA contamination. A low rate of Taq misincorporations due to template damage was estimated from the cloning and sequencing of different PCR products of one of the samples. High frequencies of C and D haplogroups are more common in South American populations, a fact that points to that sub-continent as the homeland of the Taino ancestors, as previously suggested by linguistic and archaeological evidence. Sequence and haplogroup data show that the Tainos had a substantially reduced mtDNA diversity, which is indicative of an important founder effect during the colonization of the Caribbean Islands, assumed to have been a linear migratory movement from mainland South America following the chain configuration of the Antilles.

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Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Mitochondrial DNA Studies of Native Americans: Conceptions and Misconceptions of the Population Prehistory of the Americas

A decade ago, the first reviews of the collective mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) data from Native Americans concluded that the Americas were peopled through multiple migrations from different Asian populations beginning more than 30,000 years ago. These reports confirmed multiple-wave hypotheses suggested earlier by other sources and rejected the dominant Clovis-first archeological paradigm. Consequently, it appeared that molecular biology had made a significant contribution to the study of American prehistory. As Cann comments, the Americas held the greatest promise for genetics to help solve some of the mysteries of prehistoric populations. In particular, mtDNA appeared to offer real potential as a means of better understanding ancient population movements. A decade later, none of the early conclusions remain unequivocal. Nevertheless, in its maturity, the study of Native American mtDNA has produced a volume of reports that still illuminate the nature and timing of the first peopling and postcolonization population movements within the New World.

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Mitochondrial DNA Studies Show Asymmetrical Amerindian Admixture in Afro-Colombian and Mestizo Populations

The origin of the African populations that arrived on the Colombian coasts at the time of the Spanish conquest and their subsequent settlement throughout the country and interaction with Amerindian and Spanish populations are features that can be analyzed through the study of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) markers. For this purpose, the present study investigates the admixture between these populations by analyzing the markers defining the main (A, B, C, D) and minor (X) founder haplogroups in Native Americans, the principal African haplogroup (L), and additional generic markers present in Caucasian (I, J, K, H, T, U, V, W) and minor African lineages (L3). As part of an interdisciplinary research program (the Expedición Humana, furthered by the Universidad Javeriana and directed by J.E. Bernal V.), 159 Afro-Colombians from five populations in which they are the majority and 91 urban Mestizos were studied. No Amerindian haplogroups (A-D, X) were detected in 81% of the Afro-Colombians. In those samples with Amerindian lineages (average 18.8%, with a range from 10% to 43%), haplogroup B predominated. When analyzed for the presence of African haplotypes, Afro-Colombians showed an overall frequency of 35.8% for haplogroup L mtDNAs, although with broad differences between populations. A few Afro-Colombian samples (1.9%) had mutations that have not been described before, and might therefore be considered as previously unsampled African variants or as new mutations arising in the American continent. Conversely, in Mestizos less than 22% of their mtDNAs belonged to non-Amerindian lineages, of which most were likely to be West Eurasian in origin. Haplogroup L mtDNAs were found in only one Mestizo (1.1%), indicating that, if present, admixture with African women would bring in other, rarer African lineages. On the other hand, in an accompanying paper (Keyeux et al. 2002) we have shown that Amerindians from Colombia have experienced little or no matrilineal admixture with Caucasians or Africans. Taken together, these results are evidence of different patterns of past ethnic admixture among Africans, Amerindians, and Spaniards in the geographic region now encompassing Colombia, which is also reflected in much of the region’s cultural diversity.

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THE PEOPLING OF THE NEW WORLD: Perspectives from Molecular Anthropology

A number of important insights into the peopling of the New World have been gained through molecular genetic studies of Siberian and Native American populations. These data indicate that the initial migration of ancestral Amerindian originated in south-central Siberia and entered the NewWorld between 20,000–14,000 calendar years before present (cal yr BP). These early immigrants probably followed a coastal route into the New World, where they expanded into all continental regions. A second migration that may have come from the same Siberian region entered the Americas somewhat later, possibly using an interior route, and genetically contributed to indigenous populations from North and Central America. In addition, Beringian populations moved into northern North America after the last glacial maximum (LGM) and gave rise to Aleuts, Eskimos, and Na-Dene Indians.

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Genetic Analysis and the Peopling of the New World

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