EVIDENCE suggests that the New World was colonized only 11,000-40,000 years ago by Palaeo-Indians1. The descendants of these Palaeo-Indians therefore provide a unique opportunity to study the effects of selection on major histocompatibility complex class I genes over a short period. Here we analyse the class I alleles of the Waorani of South America and the Zuni of North America. Four of the Waorani HLA-B alleles were new functional variants which could be accounted for by intralocus recombination. In contrast, all of the Zuni HLA-A and -B molecules were present in Caucasians and orientals. This suggests that the new Waorani HLA-B variants arose in South America. The description of four new HLA-B alleles in the Waorani and another five new HLA-B alleles from two other tribes of South American Amerindians2 indicates that the HLA-B locus can evolve rapidly in isolated populations. These studies underline the importance of gathering genetic data on endangered native human populations3.
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