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Abstract

For many years it has been assumed that the population of Uruguay is almost exclusively European-derived and that the biological contribution of the native population as well as of individuals of African descent is negligible. Several recent studies based on a variety of genetic markers, mostly morphological and serological markers, have produced quite a different picture of the constitution of the Uruguayan population. The Native American contribution varies from 1–20%, while the African contribution ranges from 7–15%, in different regions of the country. In the present study we examine the way the admixture process took place in Uruguay by analyzing the ancestry of maternal lineages in a sample from the northern city of Tacuarembó. To accomplish this goal we typed mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) markers of Native American, African, and European origin and estimated the proportions of each parental group in the admixed population. We found that 62% of all mtDNA haplogroups were of Native American descent, a surprising figure considering the “European roots” of the country. Consequently, this result assimilates Uruguay to the rest of Latin American populations where sex-biased gene flow between European men and Native American women has been the rule. We further analyzed the distribution of the four major founding mitochondrial lineages in Tacuarembó and compared it to other South American populations. We discuss our findings in the light of historical records and assess the need for additional genetic studies. Am. J. Hum. Biol. 16:289–297, 2004. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.