The Genomic Legacy of the Transatlantic Slave Trade in the Yungas Valley of Bolivia

PLoS One. 2015 Aug 11;10(8):e0134129. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0134129. eCollection 2015.


During the period of the Transatlantic Slave Trade (TAST) some enslaved Africans were forced to move to Upper Peru (nowadays Bolivia). At first they were sent to Potosí, but later to the tropical Yungas valley where the Spanish colonizers established a so-called "hacienda system" that was based on slave labor, including African-descendants. Due to their isolation, very little attention has been paid so far to 'Afro-Bolivian' communities either within the research field of TAST or in genetic population studies. In this study, a total of 105 individuals from the Yungas were sequenced for their mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) control region, and mitogenomes were obtained for a selected subset of these samples. We also genotyped 46 Ancestry Informative Markers (AIM) in order to investigate continental ancestry at the autosomal level. In addition, Y-chromosome STR and SNP data for a subset of the same individuals was also available from the literature. The data indicate that the partitioning of mtDNA ancestry in the Yungas differs significantly from that in the rest of the country: 81% Native American, 18% African, and 1% European. Interestingly, the great majority of 'Afro-descendant' mtDNA haplotypes in the Yungas (84%) concentrates in the locality of Tocaña. This high proportion of African ancestry in the Tocaña is also manifested in the Y-chromosome (44%) and in the autosomes (56%). In sharp contrast with previous studies on the TAST, the ancestry of about 1/3 of the 'Afro-Bolivian' mtDNA haplotypes can be traced back to East and South East Africa, which may be at least partially explained by the Arab slave trade connected to the TAST.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Blacks / genetics*
  • Bolivia
  • Chromosomes, Human, Y
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics
  • Enslaved Persons*
  • Female
  • Genetic Variation
  • Genetics, Population*
  • Genome, Mitochondrial
  • Genomics* / methods
  • Haplotypes
  • Humans
  • INDEL Mutation
  • Male
  • Molecular Sequence Annotation
  • Phylogeny
  • Phylogeography
  • Sex Factors


  • DNA, Mitochondrial

Grant support

The research leading to these results has received funding from the People Program (Marie Curie Actions) of the European Union’s Seventh Framework Program FP7/2007-2013/ under REA grant agreement no. 290344 from the “Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación” (SAF2011-26983), the Plan Galego IDT (EM 2012/045), and a grant from the Sistema Universitario Gallego- Modalidad REDES (2012-PG226) from the Xunta de Galicia (to A.S.). C.S. is supported by funding awarded by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) and co-financed by the European Social Fund (Human Potential Thematic Operational Program SFRH/BD/75627/2010).