Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Chile


In 1985, a frozen mummy was found in Cerro Aconcagua (Argentina). Archaeological studies identified the mummy as a seven-year-old Inca sacrifice victim who lived >500 years ago, at the time of the expansion of the Inca Empire towards the southern cone. The sequence of its entire mitogenome was obtained. After querying a large worldwide database of mitogenomes (>28,000) we found that the Inca haplotype belonged to a branch of haplogroup C1b (C1bi) that has not yet been identified in modern Native Americans. The expansion of C1b into the Americas, as estimated using 203 C1b mitogenomes, dates to the initial Paleoindian settlements (~18.3 thousand years ago [kya]); however, its internal variation differs between Mesoamerica and South America. By querying large databases of control region haplotypes (>150,000), we found only a few C1bi members in Peru and Bolivia (e.g. Aymaras), including one haplotype retrieved from ancient DNA of an individual belonging to the Wari Empire (Peruvian Andes). Overall, the results suggest that the profile of the mummy represents a very rare sub-clade that arose 14.3 (5-23.6) kya and could have been more frequent in the past. A Peruvian Inca origin for present-day C1bi haplotypes would satisfy both the genetic and paleo-anthropological findings.

Concepts: South America, Americas, Argentina, Latin America, Chile, Andes, Peru, Inca Empire


Scrub typhus is a life-threatening zoonosis caused by Orientia tsutsugamushi organisms that are transmitted by the larvae of trombiculid mites. Endemic scrub typhus was originally thought to be confined to the so called “tsutsugamushi triangle” within the Asia-Pacific region. In 2006, however, two individual cases were detected in the Middle East and South America, which suggested that the pathogen was present farther afield. Here, we report three autochthonous cases of scrub typhus caused by O. tsutsugamushi acquired on Chiloé Island in southern Chile, which suggests the existence of an endemic focus in South America. (Funded by the Chilean Comisión Nacional de Investigación Científica y Tecnológica and the Wellcome Trust.).

Concepts: North Africa, Middle East, Asia, South America, Chile, Asia-Pacific, Scrub typhus, Orientia tsutsugamushi


WITH ANALYSES OF ENTIRE MITOGENOMES, STUDIES OF NATIVE AMERICAN MITOCHONDRIAL DNA (MTDNA) VARIATION HAVE ENTERED THE FINAL PHASE OF PHYLOGENETIC REFINEMENT: the dissection of the founding haplogroups into clades that arose in America during and after human arrival and spread. Ages and geographic distributions of these clades could provide novel clues on the colonization processes of the different regions of the double continent. As for the Southern Cone of South America, this approach has recently allowed the identification of two local clades (D1g and D1j) whose age estimates agree with the dating of the earliest archaeological sites in South America, indicating that Paleo-Indians might have reached that region from Beringia in less than 2000 years. In this study, we sequenced 46 mitogenomes belonging to two additional clades, termed B2i2 (former B2l) and C1b13, which were recently identified on the basis of mtDNA control-region data and whose geographical distributions appear to be restricted to Chile and Argentina. We confirm that their mutational motifs most likely arose in the Southern Cone region. However, the age estimate for B2i2 and C1b13 (11-13,000 years) appears to be younger than those of other local clades. The difference could reflect the different evolutionary origins of the distinct South American-specific sub-haplogroups, with some being already present, at different times and locations, at the very front of the expansion wave in South America, and others originating later in situ, when the tribalization process had already begun. A delayed origin of a few thousand years in one of the locally derived populations, possibly in the central part of Chile, would have limited the geographical and ethnic diffusion of B2i2 and explain the present-day occurrence that appears to be mainly confined to the Tehuelche and Araucanian-speaking groups.

Concepts: South America, Americas, Latin America, Chile, Patagonia, Indigenous peoples of the Americas, Southern Cone, Operation Condor


The Atacama Desert has been pointed out as one of the places on earth where the highest surface irradiance may occur. This area is characterized by its high altitude, prevalent cloudless conditions and relatively low columns of ozone and water vapor. Aimed at the characterization of the solar spectrum in the Atacama Desert, we carried out in February-March 2015 ground-based measurements of the spectral irradiance (from the ultraviolet to the near infrared) at seven locations that ranged from the city of Antofagasta (on the southern pacific coastline) to the Chajnantor Plateau (5,100 m altitude). Our spectral measurements allowed us to retrieve the total ozone column, the precipitable water, and the aerosol properties at each location. We found that changes in these parameters, as well as the shorter optical path length at high-altitude locations, lead to significant increases in the surface irradiance with the altitude. Our measurements show that, in the range 0-5100 m altitude, surface irradiance increases with the altitude by about 27% in the infrared range, 6% in the visible range, and 20% in the ultraviolet range. Spectral measurements carried out at the Izaña Observatory (Tenerife, Spain), in Hannover (Germany) and in Santiago (Chile), were used for further comparisons.

Concepts: Ultraviolet, Earth, Sun, Infrared, Visible spectrum, Chile, Atacama Desert, Desert


The Atacama Desert is the most extreme non-polar biome on Earth, the core region of which is considered to represent the dry limit for life and to be an analogue for Martian soils. This study focused on actinobacteria because they are keystone species in terrestrial ecosystems and are acknowledged as an unrivalled source of bioactive compounds. Metagenomic analyses of hyper-arid and extreme hyper-arid soils in this desert revealed a remarkable degree of actinobacterial ‘dark matter’, evidenced by a detected increase of 34% in families against those that are validly published. Rank-abundance analyses indicated that these soils were high-diversity habitats and that the great majority of designated ‘rare’ genera (up to 60% of all phylotypes) were always rare. These studies have enabled a core actinobacterial microbiome common to both habitats to be defined. The great majority of detected taxa have not been recovered by culture dependent methods, neither, with very few exceptions, has their functional ecology been explored. A microbial seed bank of this magnitude has significance not just for Atacama soil ecosystem resilience but represents an enormous untapped resource for biotechnology discovery programmes in an era where resistance to existing antibiotics is rapidly becoming a major threat to global health.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Ecosystem, Chile, Dark matter, Atacama Desert, Desert, Rain shadow, Biosphere


Archaeological and palaeoecological studies throughout the Americas have documented widespread landscape and environmental transformation during the pre-Columbian era. The highly dynamic Formative (or Neolithic) period in northern Chile (ca. 3700-1550 yr BP) brought about the local establishment of agriculture, introduction of new crops (maize, quinoa, manioc, beans, etc.) along with a major population increase, new emergent villages and technological innovations. Even trees such as the Algarrobos (Prosopis section Algarobia) may have been part of this transformation. Here, we provide evidence that these species were not native to the Atacama Desert of Chile (18-27°S), appearing only in the late Holocene and most likely due to human actions. We assembled a database composed of 41 taxon specific AMS radiocarbon dates from archaeobotanical and palaeoecological records (rodent middens, leaf litter deposits), as well an extensive bibliographical review comprising archaeobotanical, paleoecological, phylogenetic and taxonomic data to evaluate the chronology of introduction and dispersal of these trees. Although Algarrobos could have appeared as early as 4200 yr BP in northernmost Chile, they only became common throughout the Atacama over a thousand years later, during and after the Formative period. Cultural and natural factors likely contributed to its spread and consolidation as a major silvicultural resource.

Concepts: South America, Americas, Chile, Indigenous peoples of the Americas, Mexico City, Atacama Desert, Desert, Pre-Columbian era


Simple pebble tools, ephemeral cultural features, and the remains of maritime and terrestrial foods are present in undisturbed Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene deposits underneath a large human-made mound at Huaca Prieta and nearby sites on the Pacific coast of northern Peru. Radiocarbon ages indicate an intermittent human presence dated between ~15,000 and 8000 calendar years ago before the mound was built. The absence of fishhooks, harpoons, and bifacial stone tools suggests that technologies of gathering, trapping, clubbing, and exchange were used primarily to procure food resources along the shoreline and in estuarine wetlands and distant mountains. The stone artifacts are minimally worked unifacial stone tools characteristic of several areas of South America. Remains of avocado, bean, and possibly cultivated squash and chile pepper are also present, suggesting human transport and consumption. Our new findings emphasize an early coastal lifeway of diverse food procurement strategies that suggest detailed observation of resource availability in multiple environments and a knowledgeable economic organization, although technologies were simple and campsites were seemingly ephemeral and discontinuous. These findings raise questions about the pace of early human movement along some areas of the Pacific coast and the level of knowledge and technology required to exploit maritime and inland resources.

Concepts: Human, Coast, Pacific Ocean, Mexico, South America, Chile, Pleistocene, Stone tool


A harmful algal bloom (HAB) of the raphidophyta alga Pseudochattonella cf. verruculosa during the 2016 austral summer (February-March) killed nearly 12% of the Chilean salmon production, causing the worst mass mortality of fish and shellfish ever recorded in the coastal waters of western Patagonia. The HAB coincided with a strong El Niño event and the positive phase of the Southern Annular Mode that altered the atmospheric circulation in southern South America and the adjacent Pacific Ocean. This led to very dry conditions and higher than normal solar radiation reaching the surface. Using time series of atmospheric, hydrologic and oceanographic data we show here that an increase in surface water temperature and reduced freshwater input resulted in a weakening of the vertical stratification in the fjords and sounds of this region. This allowed the advection of more saline and nutrient-rich waters, ultimately resulting in an active harmful algal bloom in coastal southern Chile.

Concepts: Algae, Fish, Water, Pacific Ocean, Algal bloom, South America, Chile, Antarctica


Latin Americans are highly heterogeneous regarding the type of Native American ancestry. Consideration of specific associations with common diseases may lead to substantial advances in unraveling of disease etiology and disease prevention. Here we investigate possible associations between the type of Native American ancestry and leading causes of death. After an aggregate-data study based on genome-wide genotype data from 1805 admixed Chileans and 639,789 deaths, we validate an identified association with gallbladder cancer relying on individual data from 64 gallbladder cancer patients, with and without a family history, and 170 healthy controls. Native American proportions were markedly underestimated when the two main types of Native American ancestry in Chile, originated from the Mapuche and Aymara indigenous peoples, were combined together. Consideration of the type of Native American ancestry was crucial to identify disease associations. Native American ancestry showed no association with gallbladder cancer mortality (P = 0.26). By contrast, each 1% increase in the Mapuche proportion represented a 3.7% increased mortality risk by gallbladder cancer (95%CI 3.1-4.3%, P = 6×10-27). Individual-data results and extensive sensitivity analyses confirmed the association between Mapuche ancestry and gallbladder cancer. Increasing Mapuche proportions were also associated with an increased mortality due to asthma and, interestingly, with a decreased mortality by diabetes. The mortality due to skin, bladder, larynx, bronchus and lung cancers increased with increasing Aymara proportions. Described methods should be considered in future studies on human population genetics and human health. Complementary individual-based studies are needed to apportion the genetic and non-genetic components of associations identified relying on aggregate-data.

Concepts: Genetics, Cancer, Disease, Demography, United States, Latin America, Chile, Indigenous peoples of the Americas


Chile has had a two-tiered health system since the 1980s, though successive governments have worked to strengthen the public tier. Despite improvements in some health indicators, satisfaction with the system has declined, and the need for reform is widely acknowledged.

Concepts: Chile, Culture of Chile