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Canary researcher studying ancient DNA of slaves in Mauritius

La Laguna (Tenerife), Feb 22 (EFE) .- The Canary biologist investigates Rosa Fregel Stanford University (USA) DNA of former African slaves and Asian workers who in the past arrived on the island of Mauritius as hand labor to work in the sugar cane cultivation.

The aim of the project is to compare past and present populations of Mauritius and thus know, among other things, whether the genetic mix has increased predisposition to certain diseases.

Rosa Fregel a PhD in Biology from the University of La Laguna and his research has focused on genetic analysis of both Aboriginal and historical human populations of the Canary Islands, he says in an interview with EFE.

Currently, he is developing his research in the lab of Carlos Bustamante, within the Department of Genetics at Stanford University.

“It is studying ancient populations but instead of using ceramic or stone tools, as would an archeologist, genetic markers are used. We can characterize populations of different regions over time and try, for example, detecting areas were uninhabited by the expansion of a desert and then they returned to live “details.

The data can be compared with modern DNA to take blood samples or saliva of the current population, while in the past to investigate the biologist removed the genetic material from bones and teeth from archaeological sites.

His association with these studies in Mauritius grew out of the experience of the biologist in the analysis of ancient DNA in samples from the Eighteenth Century Cemetery Church of the Conception of Santa Cruz de Tenerife.

This temple suffers frequent flooding and therefore the buried remains were severely degraded by contact with water.

The same is true in the cemetery of slaves in Mauritius, located near the beach in Le Morne, partially flooded at high tide.

For that reason Krish Seetah, director of the Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Mauritius contacted the Canary scientific to become part of the research team.

When European sailors arrived in Mauritius it was uninhabited island so its population is a mixture of influences from the colonial era, with Dutch, British and French, in addition to African slaves brought from Madagascar.

Slaving for growing sugar cane reached such a point that there was a time when 80 percent of the population of Mauritius was Africa or Madagascar.

At the site of Le Morne burials of African slaves who escaped from plantations and sought refuge in a very steep and inaccessible area are preserved, so for European landowners was cheaper to buy new slaves to go look.

This enclave has been declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco as a symbol of resistance to slavery but, according to the oral tradition of the region, the ending was tragic because, when it finally came the police to inform the slaves were free , they thought they were going to catch them again and chose threw himself from a cliff.

After the abolition of slavery in just a couple of decades the population of Mauritius was transformed from mostly African to have 65 percent of Hindus, in a radical ethnic changes promoted by the economic interest of European colonialism, which needed a new source of cheap labor.

To study the effect it had on Mauritius are also analyzing samples of Bois Marchand cemetery.

This cemetery contains the remains of the thousands of people who died in Mauritius due to an epidemic of malaria, which were mostly Hindus.

The process of genetic mixing in the population of Mauritius is complex and interesting from the genetic point of view and the departments of Genetics and Anthropology at the University of Stanford in investigating Rosa Fregel are interested in knowing how it affects the current population island, where there is a high rate of diabetes and obesity.

Furthermore, these studies may help clarify why when the population was predominantly African had resistance to malaria, and since there was a change in the source of labor began to spread epidemics.

“Hindu workers were not resistant to malaria or some type of parasite or mosquito was introduced there was before?” Asks Fregel.

In research also involved the University of Copenhagen, in whose laboratory the “libraries” of DNA-small DNA fragments attached to ADAPTERS- for later study at Stanford, where the nucleotide sequence is obtained are built.

Rosa Fregel states that if the archaeological samples analyzed are well preserved may reconstruct the genome of these ancient inhabitants of mauritius luxury villas.