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Concept: Lake Titicaca


HLA-G molecules seem to have a protective effect for the semi-allogeneic fetus by mother immunosuppression. Also, pregnancy pathologies have been associated to HLA-G∗01:05N “null allele”. In addition, other general regulatory immune functions have been associated to HLA-G in infections, tumors and autoimmunity. Thus, it is striking that HLA∗01:05N allele is maintained in a substantial frequency in certain human populations. In the present work, we have analysed HLA-G allele frequencies in Amerindian Mayans from Guatemala and in Uros from Titikaka Lake “totora” (reed) floating islands (Peru). No HLA-G∗01:05N has been found in both of these Amerindian populations. Further studies in Worldwide populations show that the highest HLA-G∗01:05 allele frequencies are found in Middle East; these findings have a bearing in future clinical /epidemiological studies in Amerindians. This would suggest that either this area was close to the “null” allele origin (as predicted by us) and/or some evolutive pressures are maintaining these high frequencies in Middle East. However, the fact that Cercopithecinae primate family (primates postulated as distant human ancestors) has also a MHC-G “null” allele in all individuals suggests that this allele may confer some advantage either at maternal/fetal interface or at other immune HLA-G function level (tumors, infections, autoimmunity). Human HLA-G∗01:05N may produce HLA-G isoforms, like Cercopithecinae monkeys may, which may suffice for function.

Concepts: Immune system, Genetics, Evolution, Guatemala, Primate, Allele frequency, World population, Lake Titicaca


High-elevation environments above 2500 metres above sea level (m.a.s.l.) were among the planet’s last frontiers of human colonization. Research on the speed and tempo of this colonization process is active and holds implications for understanding rates of genetic, physiological and cultural adaptation in our species. Permanent occupation of high-elevation environments in the Andes Mountains of South America tentatively began with hunter-gatherers around 9 ka according to current archaeological estimates, though the timing is currently debated. Recent observations on the archaeological site of Soro Mik'aya Patjxa (8.0-6.5 ka), located at 3800 m.a.s.l. in the Andean Altiplano, offer an opportunity to independently test hypotheses for early permanent use of the region. This study observes low oxygen (δ(18)O) and high carbon (δ(13)C) isotope values in human bone, long travel distances to low-elevation zones, variable age and sex structure in the human population and an absence of non-local lithic materials. These independent lines of evidence converge to support a model of permanent occupation of high elevations and refute logistical and seasonal use models. The results constitute the strongest empirical support to date for permanent human occupation of the Andean highlands by hunter-gatherers before 7 ka.

Concepts: Scientific method, South America, Bolivia, Andes, Peru, Altiplano, Lake Titicaca, Aconcagua


The Altiplano region of the South American Andes is marked by an inhospitable climate to which the autochthonous human populations adapted and then developed great ancient civilizations, such as the Tiwanaku culture and the Inca Empire. Since pre-Columbian times, different rulers established themselves around the Titicaca and Poopo Lakes. By the time of the arrival of Spaniards, Aymara and Quechua languages were predominant on the Altiplano under the rule of the Incas, although the occurrence of other spoken languages, such as Puquina and Uruquilla, suggests the existence of different ethnic groups in this region. In this study, we focused on the pre-Columbian history of the autochthonous Altiplano populations, particularly the Uros ethnic group, which claims to directly descend from the first settlers of the Andes, and some linguists suggest they might otherwise be related to Arawak speaking groups from the Amazon. Using phylogeographic, population structure and spatial genetic analyses of Y-chromosome and mtDNA data, we inferred the genetic relationships among Uros populations (Los Uros from Peru, Uru-Chipaya and Uru-Poopo from Bolivia), and compared their haplotype profiles with eight Aymara, nine Quechua and two Arawak (Machiguenga and Yanesha) speaking populations from Peru and Bolivia. Our results indicated that Uros populations stand out among the Altiplano populations, while appearing more closely related to the Aymara and Quechua from Lake Titicaca and surrounding regions than to the Amazon Arawaks. Moreover, the Uros populations from Peru and Bolivia are genetically differentiated from each other, indicating a high heterogeneity in this ethnic group. Finally, our results support the distinctive ancestry for the Uros populations of Peru and Bolivia, which are likely derived from ancient Andean lineages that were partially replaced during more recent farming expansion events and the establishment of complex civilizations in the Andes.

Concepts: South America, Bolivia, Andes, Peru, Inca Empire, Altiplano, Lake Titicaca, Aymara language


The importance of metallurgy for social and economic development is indisputable. Although copper (Cu) was essential for the wealth of pre- and post-colonial societies in the Andes, the onset of extensive Cu metallurgy in South America is still debated. Comprehensive archaeological findings point to first sophisticated Cu metallurgy during the Moche culture ~200-800 AD, whereas peat-bog records from southern South America suggest earliest pollution potentially from Cu smelting as far back as ~2000 BC. Here we present a 6500-years Cu emission history for the Andean Altiplano, based on ice-core records from Illimani glacier in Bolivia, providing the first complete history of large-scale Cu smelting activities in South America. We find earliest anthropogenic Cu pollution during the Early Horizon period ~700-50 BC, and attribute the onset of intensified Cu smelting in South America to the activities of the central Andean Chiripa and Chavin cultures ~2700 years ago. This study provides for the first time substantial evidence for extensive Cu metallurgy already during these early cultures.

Concepts: Pacific Ocean, South America, Bolivia, Chile, Andes, Peru, Altiplano, Lake Titicaca


The data presented in this paper provide direct microbotanical evidence concerning the early use of potato (Solanum tuberosum) within its botanical locus of origin in the high south-central Andes. The data derive from Jiskairumoko, an early village site in the western Titicaca Basin dating to the Late Archaic to Early Formative periods (∼3,400 cal y BC to 1,600 cal y BC). Because the site reflects the transition to sedentism and food production, these data may relate to potato domestication and early cultivation. Of 141 starch microremains recovered from 14 groundstone tools from Jiskairumoko, 50 are identified as consistent with cultivated or domesticated potato, based on reference to published materials and a study of wild and cultivated potato starch morphology. Along with macro- and microbotanical evidence for chenopod consumption and grinding tool data reflecting intensive use of this technology throughout site occupation, the microbotanical data reported here suggest the intensive exploitation, if not cultivation, of plant resources at Jiskairumoko. Elucidating the details of the trajectory of potato domestication is necessary for an overall understanding of the development of highland Andean agriculture, as this crop is central to the autochthonous agricultural suite. A paucity of direct botanical evidence, however, has hindered research efforts. The results of the modern and archaeological starch analyses presented here underscore the utility of this method in addressing questions related to the timing, mode, and context of potato origins.

Concepts: Agriculture, Starch, Maize, Potato, Andes, Lake Titicaca, Potato starch, Waxy potato starch


Diet and activity are thought to worsen with urbanization, thereby increasing risk of obesity and chronic diseases. A better understanding of dietary and activity patterns across the urbanization divide may help identify pathways, and therefore intervention targets, leading to the epidemic of overweight seen in low- and middle-income populations. Therefore, we sought to characterize diet and activity in a population-based study of urban and rural residents in Puno, Peru.

Concepts: Cancer, Nutrition, Obesity, Overweight, Andes, Peru, Lake Titicaca, Arequipa


In order to investigate the underlying genetic structure and genomic ancestry proportions of Peruvian subpopulations, we analyzed 551 human samples of 25 localities from the Andean, Amazonian, and Coastal regions of Peru with a set of 40 ancestry informative insertion-deletion polymorphisms. Using genotypes of reference populations from different continents for comparison, our analysis indicated that populations from all 25 Peruvian locations had predominantly Amerindian genetic ancestry. Among populations from the Titicaca Lake islands of Taquile, Amantani, Anapia, and Uros, and the Yanque locality from the southern Peruvian Andes, there was no significant proportion of non-autochthonous genomes, indicating that their genetic background is effectively derived from the first settlers of South America. However, the Andean populations from San Marcos, Cajamarca, Characato and Chogo, and coastal populations from Lambayeque and Lima displayed a low but significant European ancestry proportion. Furthermore, Amazonian localities of Pucallpa, Lamas, Chachapoyas, and Andean localities of Ayacucho and Huancayo displayed intermediate levels of non-autochthonous ancestry, mostly from Europe. These results are in close agreement with the documented history of post-Columbian immigrations in Peru and with several reports suggesting a larger effective size of indigenous inhabitants during the formation of the current country’s population.Journal of Human Genetics advance online publication, 18 July 2013; doi:10.1038/jhg.2013.73.

Concepts: South America, Bolivia, Andes, Lima, Peru, Lake Titicaca, Arequipa, Regions of Peru


Ancient lakes are renowned for their exceptional diversity of endemic species. As model systems for the study of sympatric speciation, it is necessary to understand whether a given hypothesized species flock is of monophyletic or polyphyletic origin. Here, we present the first molecular characterization of the Hyalella (Crustacea: Amphipoda) species complex of Lake Titicaca, using COI and 28S DNA sequences, including samples from the connected Small and Large Lakes that comprise Lake Titicaca, as well as from a broader survey of southern South American sites. At least five evolutionarily distant lineages are present within Lake Titicaca, which were estimated to have diverged from one another 12-20 MYA. These major lineages are dispersed throughout the broader South American Hyalella phylogeny, with each lineage representing at least one independent colonization of the lake. Moreover, complex genetic relationships are revealed between Lake Titicaca individuals and those from surrounding water bodies, which may be explained by repeated dispersal into and out of the lake, combined with parallel intralacustrine diversification within two separate clades. Although further work in deeper waters will be required to determine the number of species present and modes of diversification, our results strongly indicate that this amphipod species cloud is polyphyletic with a complex geographic history.

Concepts: DNA, Evolution, Species, Lake, Phylogenetics, Speciation, South America, Lake Titicaca


Aquatic ecosystems of the Bolivian Altiplano (∼3800 m a.s.l.) are characterized by extreme hydro-climatic constrains (e.g., high UV-radiations and low oxygen) and are under the pressure of increasing anthropogenic activities, unregulated mining, agricultural and urban development. We report here a complete inventory of mercury (Hg) levels and speciation in the water column, atmosphere, sediment and key sentinel organisms (i.e., plankton, fish and birds) of two endorheic Lakes of the same watershed differing with respect to their size, eutrophication and contamination levels. Total Hg (THg) and monomethylmercury (MMHg) concentrations in filtered water and sediment of Lake Titicaca are in the lowest range of reported levels in other large lakes worldwide. Downstream, Hg levels are 3-10 times higher in the shallow eutrophic Lake Uru-Uru than in Lake Titicaca due to high Hg inputs from the surrounding mining region. High percentages of MMHg were found in the filtered and unfiltered water rising up from <1 to ∼50% THg from the oligo/hetero-trophic Lake Titicaca to the eutrophic Lake Uru-Uru. Such high %MMHg is explained by a high in situ MMHg production in relation to the sulfate rich substrate, the low oxygen levels of the water column, and the stabilization of MMHg due to abundant ligands present in these alkaline waters. Differences in MMHg concentrations in water and sediments compartments between Lake Titicaca and Uru-Uru were found to mirror the offset in MMHg levels that also exist in their respective food webs. This suggests that in situ MMHg baseline production is likely the main factor controlling MMHg levels in fish species consumed by the local population. Finally, the increase of anthropogenic pressure in Lake Titicaca may probably enhance eutrophication processes which favor MMHg production and thus accumulation in water and biota.

Concepts: Water, Lake, Eutrophication, Water pollution, Bolivia, Altiplano, Lake Titicaca, Lakes


The objective of this work is to characterize dental wear in a skeletal sample dating to the Middle/Late Archaic period transition (8,000-6,700 cal. B.P.) from the Lake Titicaca Basin, Peru to better define subsistence behaviors of foragers prior to incipient sedentism and food production.

Concepts: Lake Titicaca, Tourism in Peru