Mitochondrial DNA diversity in the Llanos de Moxos: Moxo, Movima and Yuracare Amerindian populations from Bolivia lowlands

Ann Hum Biol. 2004 Jan-Feb;31(1):9-28. doi: 10.1080/03014460310001616464.


Background: Movima, Yuracare, Ignaciano and Trinitario are Amerindian populations living in the Bolivian lowlands of the Amazonian basin. The cultural and genetic affinity of the peoples living in this area is poorly known, despite many archaeological studies demonstrating its importance in pre-Columbian times. Densely populated Amerindian groups occupied the region, both in the Llanos and along the river streams of the Amazonian basin, practising intense agricultural activities and exchange of goods. The historical and linguistic records indicate that the land was occupied through successive migrations that gave rise to complex socio-economic communities. Genetic information suggests that the colonization of the American continent was fairly simple from a emigrational point of view, but other evolutionary processes, such as genetic drift or natural selection, could have also shaped the genetic background of present day populations in the Beni region.

Aim: The objective of this study is to characterize the genetic diversity of these populations by analysing the sequence variability of the HVR-I control region in the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). The Amerindian origin of these populations suggests that close genetic similarities should be evident between the Beni samples studied here and other Amerindian groups. However, complex processes of population interactions and/or isolation in the Beni region might result in non-expected genetic affinities.

Subjects and methods: DNA was extracted from pulled-out hairs obtained in situ from non-closely related individuals living in the Beni Department in Bolivia. DNA was extracted using a standard Chelex 100 method and a 401 bp DNA fragment of the HVR-I region was amplified using specific primers (L-15978 and H-16412). DNA amplicons were purified by centrifugation using Microspin S-300 HR columns and both SNA strands were sequenced after asymmetric PCR using direct Dye-Terminator 2 sequencing kit (Perkin-Elmer). Two independent 401 and 328 bp DNA fragments were sequenced separately for each sample. The sequence analyses includes mismatch distributions and mean pairwise differences, median network analysis, and neighbour joining, maximum likelihood phylogenetic comparisons. Genetic diversity of DNA sequences was also measured in various ways for the sample studied and UPGMA trees were drawn, including a large number of South Amerindian sequences.

Results: The genetic diversity of 401 nucleotide long mtDNA sequences in the hypervariable control region, from positions 16,000-16,400, was characterized in a sample of 54 Amerindians living in the Llanos de Moxos. A total of 34 distinct lineages were observed, defined by 41 variable nucleotide positions, and 70.6% of all lineages were single sequences. All four major Amerindian haplogroups were detected (A 18.5%, n=10; B 24.1%, n=13, C 50.0% n=27; and D 5.6%, n=3). The median network analysis observed suggests that processes of population expansion took place in the Beni region. However, no clear haplotype differentiation by population could be detected. High levels of molecular variability and a bimodal pair-wise mismatch distribution were seen within the sample. The analyses of molecular variance (AMOVA) showed that most of the variance observed was due to intrapopulation variability, and that the highest among-groups variance was obtained when a linguistic classification criteria was used. The phylogenetic comparison revealed unique lineages in the Beni areas, not reported for other Amerindian populations.

Conclusions: The genetic diversity observed in the Beni area is higher than that observed in other American populations living in much larger areas and with a long, known evolutionary history, despite the reduced area of Moxos. This could result from processes of reproductive isolation between groups, followed by population expansions and migration, where genetic drift might have be a major evolutionary force in population differentiation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bolivia
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics*
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Genetics, Population*
  • Humans
  • Indians, South American / genetics*
  • Phylogeny
  • Polymorphism, Genetic
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA / methods


  • DNA, Mitochondrial