As the ancient Andean people turned wild tubers into the domesticated potato, the potato may have altered the genomes of the Andeans who made it a staple of their diet, according to new research.
Potatoes, native to South America, became an agricultural crop thousands of years ago in the Andean highlands of Peru. Now, researchers have used DNA analysis to show that the ancient populations of the Peruvian highlands adapted to the introduction of agriculture and an extreme, high-altitude environment in ways distinct from other global populations.
“We see a different configuration of a gene associated with starch digestion in the small intestine—MGAM—in the agricultural ancient Andean genome samples, but not in hunter-gatherers down the coast,” says first author of the paper John Lindo, a geneticist at Emory University. “It suggests a sort of co-evolution between an agricultural crop and human beings.”
In contrast, European populations that began consuming more grains with the rise of agriculture show different genomic changes. Research has shown that their genomes have an increased number of copies of the gene coding for amylase—an enzyme in saliva that breaks down starch.