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Mol Biol Evol. 2003 Oct;20(10):1682-91. Epub 2003 Jun 27.

Mitochondrial DNA diversity in South America and the genetic history of Andean highlanders.

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  • 1Area di Antropologia, Dipartimento di Biologia e. s., Universit√† di Bologna, Bologna, Italy.


We analyzed mtDNA sequence variation in 590 individuals from 18 south Amerindian populations. The spatial pattern of mtDNA diversity in these populations fits well the model proposed on the basis of Y-chromosome data. We found evidence of a differential action of genetic drift and gene flow in western and eastern populations, which has led to genetic divergence in the latter but not in the former. Although it is not possible to identify a pattern of genetic variation common to all South America, when western and eastern populations are analyzed separately, the mtDNA diversity in both regions fits the isolation-by-distance model, suggesting independent evolutionary dynamics. Maximum-likelihood estimates of divergence times between central and south Amerindian populations fall between 13,000 and 19,000 years, which is consistent with a Pleistocenic peopling of South America. Moreover, comparison of among-population variability of mtDNA and Y-chromosome DNA seems to indicate that South America is the only continent where the levels of differentiation are similar for maternal and paternal lineages.

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