Genetic uniqueness of the Waorani tribe from the Ecuadorian Amazon

Genetic uniqueness of the Waorani tribe from the Ecuadorian Amazon


South America and especially the Amazon basin is known to be home to some of the most isolated human groups in the world. Here, we report on a study of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) in the Waorani from Ecuador, probably the most warlike human population known to date. Seeking to look in more depth at the characterization of the genetic diversity of this Native American tribe, molecular markers from the X and Y chromosomes were also analyzed. Only three different mtDNA haplotypes were detected among the Waorani sample. One of them, assigned to Native American haplogroup A2, accounted for more than 94% of the total diversity of the maternal gene pool. Our results for sex chromosome molecular markers failed to find close genetic kinship between individuals, further emphasizing the low genetic diversity of the mtDNA. Bearing in mind the results obtained for both the analysis of the mtDNA control region and complete mitochondrial genomes, we suggest the existence of a ‘Waorani-specific’ mtDNA lineage. According to current knowledge on the phylogeny of haplogroup A2, we propose that this lineage could be designated as subhaplogroup A2s. Its wide predominance among the Waorani people might have been conditioned by severe genetic drift episodes resulting from founding events, long-term isolation and a traditionally small population size most likely associated with the striking ethnography of this Amazonian community. In all, the Waorani constitute a fine example of how genetic imprint may mirror ethnopsychology and sociocultural features in human populations.


  • Cardoso, S.; Alfonso-Sanchez, M. A.; Valverde, L.; Sanchez, D.; Zarrabeitia, M. T.; Odriozola, A.; Martinez-Jarreta, B. & de Pancorbo, M. M. (2012). Genetic uniqueness of the Waorani tribe from the Ecuadorian Amazon. Heredity, 108(6), 609-615.

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