mtDNA and Race in PR -- EL NUEVO DIA (Boriken/"Puerto Rico")
(Edited and clarified by Henry Quirindongo-August 29, 1999)
By Gladys Nieves Ramirez -
MAYAGUEZ - Two short studies revealing that a considerable percentage of Puerto Ricans have indigenous American Indian blood have persuaded doctor Juan C. Cruzado Martinez to make a sample experiment with the purpose of measuring genetic contributions through the maternal lineage of the three ethnic groups that predominate in Puerto Rico. In addition to the native American Indian, the study will identify the percentage of Puerto Ricans that have black and Caucasian (white) heritage. In the study, which (began) in August, (1999.) Martinez (received) a scholarship grant of $270.000 from the National Foundation of Sciences of the United States. Martinez, who is a professor of Biology of the Recinto University of Mayaguez (RUM), explained that the experiment will examine the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) of the mitochondria (mtDNA) that is transmitted solely through the mother. From the volunteers, six roots of hair are taken that are treated in the laboratory so that the DNA is released. Each ethnic group has an mtDNA distinguishing, marker indicated.
The professor maintained that for the first study, taken in the past academic year, he examined mtDNA of 56 people, 23 of residents of districts who have an indigenous known background, like Indiera Alta and Indiera Baja, of Maricao, and Miraflores, of Anasco. The other volunteers were workers of the RUM that affirmed to have Indian ancestry on the part of the mother or a grandmother. 70% of the examined registered mtDNA of indigenous origin. As that study was skewed, since they only looked for people who could possibly have indigenous ancestry, Martinez said he had made an additional study in which he examined 38 people selected (scientifically) at random. Of that group, 53% was positive for indigenous mtDNA. Surprising results "The results surprised us by the high indigenous percentage, because it says in history that the Indians were quickly exterminated by diseases. We are finding that, but more true, that they were assimilated and that can have many implications. For example, one can eliminate a race without exterminating it. It can be eliminated (to a large degree culturally as well as genetically), when assimilating", the professor expounded. He stated that the experiments examine the history of the bloodline of Puerto Rico solely through the maternal lineage. It added that furthermore, he intends to study the genetic contribution through the paternal lineage, which can take over the chromosome and since the Spanish colonization was mainly of men, it expects that the Caucasian contribution to the genetics of the Puerto Ricans is greater than the native by paternal lineage. (This also applies to he> Black slave men who were introduced there.) "Now we are going to make a study much more complete because the study will be representative of all Puerto Rico and we will gather from the different social strata," Martinez said. The statistical error is going to be relatively low," affirmed Martinez. For that study Martinez and a group of Biology students will visit 800 homes in different zones of Puerto Rico. For the sample volunteers of eight towns of larger populations will be selected. They are San Juan, Bayamón, Ponce, Carolina, Caguas, Mayaguez, Arecibo and Guaynabo. In addition, they will look for samples in Cayey, Corozal and Barranquitas, in the central zone; in Aguadilla, San Sebastián, Moca and Hormigueros in the west; in Yauco, Juana Diaz and Penuelas in the south; in Toa Baja, Vega Baja and Vega Alta in the north; and in Humacao, San Lorenzo and Loíza in the east. The towns were (scientifically) chosen at random, pointed Martinez. He emphasized that it will be the first time that an experiment of this nature in Puerto Rico (or anywhere else) has been made.