As Europeans began to settle in the Americas from the 15th century onwards, they exposed the native inhabitants to a host of new diseases. Many indigenous tribes were totally decimated by the introduction of smallpox, influenza, and measles into their environment. A brand new study shows that the bodies of Native Americans alive today actually have successfully adapted genetic codes to deal with the threat of European diseases.
This study was carried out by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Professor Ripan Malhi, the leader of this study, was able to study deceased members of the Tsimshian community in British Columbia. He took 25 skeleton fragments of various natives who lived in the area from 500 to 6,000 years ago.
After gathering genetic data from the ancient Tsimshians, the researchers also looked at the DNA of 25 living Tsimshians. The scientists used exome sequencing to figure out whether or not DNA codes that had something to do with immune system responses.
Interestingly, these researchers discovered that the gene HLA-DQA1, which is concerned with coding proteins and helping ward off various viruses, was in 100 percent of the skeletal remains, but only in 36 percent of tribesmen still living. Researchers believe that this gene was deemed maladaptive by the bodies of those who came into contact with European germs. Those that survived the confrontation with European diseases, therefore, were less likely to have HLA-DQA1.
It is estimated that Tsimshian tribe met the Europeans around 1700. This tribe was a seafaring tribe, and they are currently considered a First Nations community in the Prince Rupert Harbor.
Researchers believe that this shift in genetic coding took place around 175 years ago. However, they don’t yet know how this genetic shift biologically occured.