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Keywords:

  • Amerindian;
  • Easter Island;
  • European;
  • HLA alleles;
  • mitochondrial DNA, Polynesian;
  • Y chromosomes

Abstract

Most archaeological and linguistic evidence suggest a Polynesian origin of the population of Easter Island (Rapanui), and this view has been supported by the identification of Polynesian mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) polymorphisms in prehistoric skeletal remains. However, some evidence of an early South American contact also exists (the sweet potato, bottle gourd etc.), but genetic studies have so far failed to show an early Amerindian contribution to the gene pool on Easter Island. To address this issue, we analyzed mtDNA and Y chromosome markers and performed high-resolution human leukocyte antigen (HLA) genotyping of DNA harvested from previously collected sera of 48 reputedly nonadmixed native Easter Islanders. All individuals carried mtDNA types and HLA alleles previously found in Polynesia, and most men carried Y chromosome markers of Polynesian origin, providing further evidence of a Polynesian origin of the population of Easter Island. A few individuals carried HLA alleles and/or Y chromosome markers of European origin. More interestingly, some individuals carried the HLA alleles A*0212 and B*3905, which are of typical Amerindian origin. The genealogy of some of the individuals carrying these non-Polynesian HLA alleles and their haplotypic backgrounds suggest an introduction into Easter Island in the early 1800s, or earlier. Thus, there may have been an early European and Amerindian contribution to the Polynesian gene pool of Easter Island.