Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Demographic history of Canary Islands male gene-pool: replacement of native lineages by European

Rosa Fregel1*, Verónica Gomes23, Leonor Gusmão2, Ana M González1, Vicente M Cabrera1, António Amorim2 and Jose M Larruga1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Genetics, University of La Laguna, Avda. Astrofísico Fco. Sánchez, La Laguna, 38271 Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain

2 Institute of Pathology and Molecular Immunology of the University of Porto (IPATIMUP), University of Porto, Porto, Portugal

3 Institute of Legal Medicine, University of Santiago de Compostela, Santiago de Compostela, Spain

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2009, 9:181  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-9-181

Published: 3 August 2009



The origin and prevalence of the prehispanic settlers of the Canary Islands has attracted great multidisciplinary interest. However, direct ancient DNA genetic studies on indigenous and historical 17th–18th century remains, using mitochondrial DNA as a female marker, have only recently been possible. In the present work, the analysis of Y-chromosome polymorphisms in the same samples, has shed light on the way the European colonization affected male and female Canary Island indigenous genetic pools, from the conquest to present-day times.


Autochthonous (E-M81) and prominent (E-M78 and J-M267) Berber Y-chromosome lineages were detected in the indigenous remains, confirming a North West African origin for their ancestors which confirms previous mitochondrial DNA results. However, in contrast with their female lineages, which have survived in the present-day population since the conquest with only a moderate decline, the male indigenous lineages have dropped constantly being substituted by European lineages. Male and female sub-Saharan African genetic inputs were also detected in the Canary population, but their frequencies were higher during the 17th–18th centuries than today.


The European colonization of the Canary Islands introduced a strong sex-biased change in the indigenous population in such a way that indigenous female lineages survived in the extant population in a significantly higher proportion than their male counterparts.