A Comparative Analysis of Genetic Ancestry and Admixture in the Colombian Populations of Chocó and Medellín

G3 (Bethesda). 2017 Oct 5;7(10):3435-3447. doi: 10.1534/g3.117.1118.


At least 20% of Colombians identify as having African ancestry, yielding the second largest population of Afro-descendants in Latin America. To date, there have been relatively few studies focused on the genetic ancestry of Afro-Latino populations. We report a comparative analysis of the genetic ancestry of Chocó, a state located on Colombia's Pacific coast with a population that is >80% Afro-Colombian. We compared genome-wide patterns of genetic ancestry and admixture for Chocó to six other admixed American populations, with an emphasis on a Mestizo population from the nearby Colombian city of Medellín. One hundred sample donors from Chocó were genotyped across 610,545 genomic sites and compared with 94 publicly available whole genome sequences from Medellín. At the continental level, Chocó shows mostly African genetic ancestry (76%) with a nearly even split between European (13%) and Native American (11%) fractions, whereas Medellín has primarily European ancestry (75%), followed by Native American (18%) and African (7%). Sample donors from Chocó self-identify as having more African ancestry, and conversely less European and Native American ancestry, than can be genetically inferred, as opposed to what we previously found for Medellín, where individuals tend to overestimate levels of European ancestry. We developed a novel approach for subcontinental ancestry assignment, which allowed us to characterize subcontinental source populations for each of the three distinct continental ancestry fractions separately. Despite the clear differences between Chocó and Medellín at the level of continental ancestry, the two populations show overall patterns of subcontinental ancestry that are highly similar. Their African subcontinental ancestries are only slightly different, with Chocó showing more exclusive shared ancestry with the modern Yoruba (Nigerian) population, and Medellín having relatively more shared ancestry with West African populations in Sierra Leone and Gambia. Both populations show very similar Spanish ancestry within Europe and virtually identical patterns of Native American ancestry, with main contributions from the Embera and Waunana tribes. When the three subcontinental ancestry components are considered jointly, the populations of Chocó and Medellín are shown to be most closely related, to the exclusion of the other admixed American populations that we analyzed. We consider the implications of the existence of shared subcontinental ancestries for Colombian populations that appear, at first glance, to be clearly distinct with respect to competing notions of national identity that emphasize ethnic mixing (mestizaje) vs. group-specific identities (multiculturalism).

Keywords: Admixture; Afro-Colombian; Afro-Latino; Comparative Genomics; Genetic Ancestry; Human Genomics; Population Genetics.

MeSH terms

  • Blacks / genetics*
  • Colombia
  • Ethnicity / genetics
  • Genetics, Population
  • Genome, Human
  • Humans
  • Whites / genetics*