Identifying Markers and Populations for Study of Inherited Traits in South American Camelids

Identifying Markers and Populations for Study of Inherited Traits in South American Camelids

(MAF study partially funded by ARF)

Principal investigators:

Juan Carlow Marin, Warren Johnson
Universidad Mayor, Santiago, Chile
National Cancer Institute, Frederick


Wild camelid populations are often inbred, resulting in reduced genetic variation and an increase in inherited diseases and congenital abnormalities. In order to use the nearly completed alpaca genome map and other new genetic tools to study alpacas and llamas, scientists need access to biological samples and population information. Investigators will identify and collect samples from wild, semi-captive and captive populations of camelids in South America. This study will support an already considerable effort by Chilean scientists and their colleagues to collect samples, and it is the first step toward finding the genetic basis of traits of adaptive and evolutionary importance. In addition, the information learned will provide the first direct measure of the genetic differences between North American and South American herds of alpacas and llamas.


Researchers learned that wild South American camelids (guanacos and vicuñas) had a low frequency of abnormal traits, while domestic South American camelids (llamas and alpacas) showed a higher frequency of malformations than their wild relatives. Intensively managed domestic herds showed low to moderate levels of genetic variability, which is the likely cause of genetic issues. Captive guanaco and vicuña populations that were founded from recently captured individuals didn’t show a similar lack in diversity. In fact captive guanacos and wild populations revealed few differences, which may be explained by the establishment of recent breeding programs. This study provided the first steps for facilitating the use of herds in Chile for genetic mapping projects. The results will also provide context for future work with North American and Australian populations.