April 18, 2016

Afro-Mexico Genomics Project

diego_duran

Illustration in “History of the Indies of New Spain” by Fray Diego Durán

 

Colonizers brought millions of enslaved individuals from Africa to the Americas to work in forced labor. It is estimated that around 250,000 enslaved Africans were forcibly taken to New Spain (the Spanish viceroyalty that corresponds to Mexico, Central America, and the current US southwest states) between the XVI and XVII centuries. Despite the important role that Africans played in the construction of the colony and the significant contributions of the Afro-descendants to present-day Mexican cultural diversity and traditions, little attention is given to the study of these groups from a genetics perspective. On average 4-5% of the genomes of mestizo Mexicans is of African origin.

The aim of this project is to characterize in detail the African genetic ancestry of Mexico. To do so, we work together with Afro-Mexican communities living in the coastal regions of the States of Oaxaca, Guerrero and Veracruz, as we expect to find higher levels of African ancestry there. For this genetic characterization we are generating genome-wide genotype from hundreds of Afro-descendants. Together with the genetic data we are analyzing phenotypic traits of participants such as height, BMI and skin pigmentation. In addition we will characterize ancient genomes from archaeological remains likely belonging to enslaved Africans brought to Mexico during the slave trade.

Some of the questions we hope to answer are:

  • What is the extent of African genetic ancestry that exists in Afro-Mexicans?
  • How is this compared to the rest of the population?
  • What is the source of the non-African genetic fraction of Afro-Mexicans and how does this recapitulate recent/ancient admixture events?
  • What are the present-day populations within Africa for which we have genetic data that have higher affinity to the African genetic fraction of Afro-Mexicans?
  • What are some of the functional consequences of the African genetic component?

This project is carried out in collaboration with Andres Moreno from the National Laboratory for Genomics for Biodiversity (LANGEBIO) as well as Chris Gignoux, Carlos Bustamante and Marcus Feldman from Stanford University.

I am currently recruiting students at all levels to take part in this research. If interested please visit join the lab for more information and drop me an email.

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