We've updated our Privacy Policy to make it clearer how we use your personal data. We use cookies to provide you with a better experience. You can read our Cookie Policy here.


Indigenous Asháninka Populations Have “Surprising” Levels of Genetic Diversity

A landscape in the Amazon.
Credit: Hans Luiggi on Unsplash.
Listen with
Register for free to listen to this article
Thank you. Listen to this article using the player above.

Want to listen to this article for FREE?

Complete the form below to unlock access to ALL audio articles.

Read time: 2 minutes

Scientists from the University of Pavia and Trinity College Dublin have identified “unexpected” levels of genetic variation in Indigenous Asháninka populations from Peruvian Amazonia. The research is published in Current Biology.

Exploring the impact of colonization

In contrast to other regions of the world, reconstructing the genetic background of the Americas is challenging due to the large-scale European colonization that has occurred in this region throughout history. To explore the genetic history of Indigenous populations, many scientists in the field study DNA from both modern and ancient individuals, harnessing recent advances in next-generation sequencing to examine degraded DNA found in archaeological samples. 

Professor Alessandro Achilli, from the genetics department at the University of Pavia, and Dr. Marco Rosario Capodiferro, postdoctoral researcher in Trinity College Dublin’s School of Genetics and Microbiology are the authors of a new study that has focused on the Asháninka people, the largest Indigenous group in the Peruvian Amazonian rainforests.

Who are the Asháninka?

The Asháninka are one of the largest tribes in South America, who live in various regions of the Amazon. Though some communities are geographically separated, they share common ways of life, language systems and beliefs. 

The researchers collected genetic data from over 50 Asháninka individuals in Peru, which was added to a worldwide dataset of modern populations for comparison. In addition to the modern DNA analyzed, Achilli and colleagues studied ancient genomes from over 500 Siberian and American individuals.

Unexpected levels of genetic diversity

To Achilli and colleagues’ surprise, the Asháninka population sampled could be distinguished into two genetically different groups – a higher level of genetic diversity than was originally expected, they say. Based on their analyses, the researchers suggest that Asháninkas share a common origin, deriving from the southeastern or southern part of the South American continent. However, further genomic data from ancient populations that resided in the inner region of the continent will be required to confirm this hypothesis, they emphasize.

Want more breaking news?

Subscribe to Technology Networks’ daily newsletter, delivering breaking science news straight to your inbox every day.

Subscribe for FREE

Achilli and team also discovered that the Asháninkas share a genetic link to ancient Caribbean populations that are associated with Ceramic cultures. They hypothesize that Asháninka ancestors from the inner regions of South America might have been part of a south-to-north migration during which a transition occurred from Archaic to Ceramic cultures on the Caribbean islands.

“In combination, these exciting findings open a new line of investigation focused on the inner regions of the American continent and highlight the importance of microgeographic studies, and of the history of a single and specific Indigenous group. They give value to the genetic and cultural heritage inherited from Indigenous groups and allow us to understand fundamental information that impacts the whole continent,” says Capodiferro.

Reference: Capodiferro MR, Chero Osorio AM, Rambaldi Migliore N, et al. The multifaceted genomic history of Ashaninka from Amazonian Peru. Current Biology. 2023. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2023.02.046

This article is a rework of a press release issued by Trinity College Dublin. Material has been edited for length and content.