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We used 15 short tandem repeat (STR) loci (D8S1179, D21S11, D7S820, CSF1PO, D3S1358, TH01, D13S317, D16S539, D2S1338, D19S433, VWA, TPOX, D18S51, D5S818, and FGA) to genetically characterize 361 individuals from 11 indigenous populations (Amuzgo, Chinanteco, Chontal, Huave, Mazateco, Mixe, Mixteco, Triqui, Zapoteco del Istmo, Zapoteco del Valle, and Zoque) from Oaxaca, Mexico. We also used previously published data from other Mexican peoples (Maya, Chol, Tepehua, Otomí, and Mestizos from northern and central Mexico) to delineate genetic relations, for a total of 541 individuals. Average heterozygosity (H) was lower in most populations from Oaxaca (range 0.687 in Zoque to 0.756 in Chontal) than values observed in Mestizo populations from Mexico (0.758 and 0.793 in central and northern Mestizo, respectively) but higher than values observed in other Amerindian populations from South America; the same relation was true for the number of alleles (na). We tested (using the software Structure) whether major geographic or linguistic barriers to gene flow existed among the populations of Oaxaca and found that the populations appeared to constitute one or two genetic groups, suggesting that neither geographic location nor linguistics had an effect on the genetic structure of these culturally and linguistically highly diverse indigenous peoples. Moreover, we found a low but statistically significant between-population differentiation. In addition, the genetic structure of Oaxacan populations did not fit an isolation-by-distance model. Finally, using AMOVA and a Bayesian clustering approach, we did not detect significant geographic or linguistic barriers to gene flow within Oaxaca. These results suggest that the indigenous communities of Oaxaca, although culturally isolated, can be genetically defined as a large, nearly panmictic population in which migration could be a more important population mechanism than genetic drift. Finally, compared with outgroups in Mexico (both indigenous peoples and Mestizos), three groups were apparent. Among them, only the Otomí population from Hidalgo has a different culture and language.

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