By Alejandro Prieto
Montevideo, Aug 12 (EFE).- A genealogical DNA test developed by the Brazilian company Genera for a Latin American clientele has arrived in Uruguay, where despite a late-19th-century wave of European immigration a significant portion of the population is of indigenous descent.
The simple action of scraping the inner side of a person’s cheek provides genetic material that allows scientists to make a host of determinations that range from that individual’s caffeine sensitivity to his or her ancestral roots.
Genera’s executive director and co-founder, Ricardo di Lazzaro, said in an interview with Efe that his company’s DNA test can be a “life-changing” experience for those wanting to know more about their family history or medical predispositions.
A physician and biochemist with a master’s degree in human genomics from Brazil’s University of Sao Paulo, he founded Genera in 2010 along with partner Andre Chinchio.
Today, it is the only South American company to design and offer genealogical DNA tests that take into account the unique characteristics of Latin America’s population.
“I take all the tests on the market, and many (show) that I have a lot of DNA from Ireland or the United Kingdom, but I don’t; the truth is that it’s from Iberia (sic) or Italy, and the companies change it because it wasn’t developed for that,” Di Lazzaro said.
By contrast, the expert said Genera’s focus is on “developing its platform and all its algorithms with the Latin American population in mind.” Genetic data thus is collated with that of indigenous peoples of the Americas like the Tupi and the native peoples of the Amazon, Andes and Patagonia.
While Brazil-based Genera is expanding its horizons with the virtually simultaneous launch of tests for the Argentine, Chilean and Uruguayan markets, Di Lazzaro said he is eager to see the results from Uruguay’s “very interesting” populace.
The expert noted that Uruguay, like its neighbors, has a mestizo population (of combined European and indigenous descent), but the local context indicates the question of native ancestry is a complicated one.
According to the latest official census in 2011, 90.7 percent of Uruguay’s population proclaim themselves to be of European ancestry and only 4.9 percent say they are of indigenous descent.
Another factor is what descendants of the original inhabitants of that region call the “myth of the Indian-less country,” a perception that stems from an 1831 massacre that killed dozens of Charrua indigenous people.
Nevertheless, a 2017 study by the University of the Republic’s Biological Anthropology department found that 34 percent of Uruguay’s population has indigenous ancestry.
Some people are afraid to discover their genetic predisposition to diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and cancer, one of the results of the complete, $149 Ancestry, Health and Wellbeing test, Di Lazzaro said, though he added that the pros outweigh the cons.
“In Brazil, there were at least three times that I witnessed (a reunion) of siblings who hadn’t known one another previously, or had been adopted, also (similar cases) of father and daughter or son. And that’s something that can totally change your life,” he said. EFE