Possible Migration Routes into South America Deduced from Mitochondrial DNA Studies in Colombian Amerindian Populations

Mitochondrial DNA haplotype studies have been useful in unraveling the origins of Native Americans. Such studies are based on restriction site and intergenic deletion/insertion polymorphisms, which define four main haplotype groups common to Asian and American populations. Several studies have characterized these lineages in North, Central, and South American Amerindian, as well as Na Dene and Aleutian populations. Siberian, Central Asian, and Southeast Asian populations have also been analyzed, in the hope of fully depicting the route(s) of migration between Asia and America. Colombia, a key route of migration between North and South America, has until now not been studied. To resolve the current lack of information about Colombian Amerindian populations, we have investigated the presence of the founder haplogroups in 25 different ethnic groups from all over the country. The present research is part of an interdisciplinary program, Expedición Humana, fostered by the Universidad Javeriana and Dr. J. E. Bernal V. The results show the presence of the four founder A-D Amerindian lineages, with varied distributions in the different populations, as well as the presence of other haplotypes in frequencies ranging from 3% to 26%. These include some unique or private polymorphisms, and also indicate the probable presence of other Asian and a few non-Amerindian lineages. A spatial structure is apparent for haplogroups A and D, and to a lesser extent for haplogroup C. While haplogroup A and D frequencies in Colombian populations from the northwestern side of the Andes resemble those seen in Central American Amerindians more than those seen in South American populations, their frequencies on the southeastern side more closely resemble the bulk of South American frequencies so far reported, raising the question as to whether they reflect more than one migration route into South America. High frequencies of the B lineage are also characteristic of some populations. Our observations may be explained by historical events during the pre-Columbian dispersion of the first settlers and, later, by disruptions caused by the European colonization.