Project 5: Charting the ancestry of African Americans – Analysis in Bolivian Populations

Fellow:  Tanja Heinz
Supervision:  Prof. Antonio Salas
Host Institution:  Faculty of Legal Medicine, University of Santiago de Compostela
Duration:  3 years – starting from 1 June 2012

This project will use modern genetic data from African descendants in the Americas to try to trace ancestral origins using mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analyses. In particular this research will focus on Bolivia, where enslaved African people were sent in the 16th century by Spanish conquerors to work in silver mines and mints. Following emancipation in the 19th century these Afro-Bolivians migrated to the highlands to a remote agrarian region called the Yungas, in the department of La Paz, where colonists established a hacienda system based on continued slave labour, only reformed in 1952.

Until to the present day small communities of Bolivians with African ancestry survived, the most well known being the Tocaña. Although geographically isolated these Afro-descendent communities have been surrounded by a high number of indigenous American people throughout their presence in Bolivia. This raises questions about cultural and therefore genetic admixture. Thus, the first part of this research project is to investigate genetic admixture in different Bolivian populations by exploring variations in the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) genome. The following part of the research project is to sequence the entire mtDNA genome of selected Afro-Bolivian individuals.

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