Genetic Chaos

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Recently Integrated Alu Elements and Human Genomic Diversity

A comprehensive analysis of two Alu Y lineage subfamilies was undertaken to assess Alu-associated genomic diversity and identify new Alu insertion polymorphisms for the study of human population genetics. Recently integrated Alu elements (283) from the Yg6 and Yi6 subfamilies were analyzed by polymerase chain reaction (PCR), and 25 of the loci analyzed were polymorphic for insertion presence/absence within the genomes of a diverse array of human populations. These newly identified Alu insertion polymorphisms will be useful tools for the study of human genomic diversity. Our screening of the Alu insertion loci also resulted in the recovery of several ‘‘young’’ Alu elements that resided at orthologous positions in nonhuman primate genomes. Sequence analysis demonstrated these ‘‘young’’ Alu insertions were the products of gene conversion events of older, preexisting Alu elements or independent parallel forward insertions of older Alu elements in the same short genomic region. The level of gene conversion between Alu elements suggests that it may have an influence on the single nucleotide polymorphism within Alu elements in the genome. We have also
identified two genomic deletions associated with the retroposition and insertion of Alu Y lineage elements into the human genome. This type of Alu retroposition–mediated genomic deletion is a novel source of lineage-specific evolution within primate genomes.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2004

An Extensive Analysis of Y-Chromosomal Microsatellite Haplotypes in Globally Dispersed Human Populations

The genetic variance at seven Y-chromosomal microsatellite loci (or short tandem repeats [STRs]) was studied among 986 male individuals from 20 globally dispersed human populations. A total of 598 different haplotypes were observed, of which 437 (73.1%) were each found in a single male only. Population-specific haplotype-diversity values were .86–.99. Analyses of haplotype diversity and population-specific haplotypes revealed marked population-structure differences between more-isolated indigenous populations (e.g., Central African Pygmies or Greenland Inuit) and more-admixed populations (e.g., Europeans or Surinamese). Furthermore, male individuals from isolated indigenous populations shared haplotypes mainly with male individuals from their own population. By analysis of molecular variance, we found that 76.8% of the total genetic variance present among these male individuals could be attributed to genetic differences between male individuals who were members of the same population. Haplotype sharing between populations, ST statistics, and phylogenetic analysis identified close genetic affinities among European populations and among New Guinean populations. Our data illustrate that Y-chromosomal STR haplotypes are an ideal tool for the study of the genetic affinities between groups of male subjects and for detection of population structure.

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Y-chromosome specific YCAII, DYS19 and YAP polymorphisms in human populations: a comparative study

Two hypervariable Y-specific markers, the YCAII and DYS19 STRs, and the more stable Y Alu Polymorphism (YAP) have been analysed in about 1400 individuals of 21 different populations, mainly from Europe but also from the Middle East, Africa and Asia. On the basis of the frequency distributions of these three Y-markers we compare, using different statistical analyses, their power in detecting population genetic structure and in distinguishing closely related groups. The pattern of populations' genetic affinities inferred from the three markers considered altogether suggests a strong genetic structure that, with a few exceptions, broadly corresponds to the linguistic relatedness and/or geographic location of the sampled populations.

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Monday, March 29, 2004

Latitudinal patterns and environmental determinants of recent human cultural diversity: do humans follow biogeographical rules?

Biogeographers have noted many strong patterns in the diversity and distribution of animal and plant taxa. Human cultural diversity also exhibits strong geographical patterns. Here we analyse the global distribution of 3814 human cultures in relation to latitude and climatic parameters. The density and diversity of human cultures declines with latitude and increases with temperature and rainfall. Human cultures in tropical, wetter or warmer areas have smaller ranges and are more densely packed and differentiated. These relationships can be documented statistically in ways that parallel species diversity among other organisms. The global nature of these patterns implies ecological equilibrium independent of evolutionary history in different continents, and has implications for the interpretation of human genetic diversity, as well as for the understanding of processes of human cultural diversification and their relationship to evolutionary and ecological mechanisms.

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The Distribution of Human Genetic Diversity: A Comparison of Mitochondrial, Autosomal, and Y-Chromosome Data

We report a comparison of worldwide genetic variation among 255 individuals by using autosomal, mitochondrial, and Y-chromosome polymorphisms. Variation is assessed by use of 30 autosomal restriction-site polymorphisms (RSPs), 60 autosomal short-tandem-repeat polymorphisms (STRPs), 13 Alu-insertion polymorphisms and one LINE-1 element, 611 bp of mitochondrial control-region sequence, and 10 Y-chromosome polymorphisms. Analysis of these data reveals substantial congruity among this diverse array of genetic systems. With the exception of the autosomal RSPs, in which an ascertainment bias exists, all systems show greater gene diversity in Africans than in either Europeans or Asians. Africans also have the largest total number of alleles, as well as the largest number of unique alleles, for most systems. GST values are 11%–18% for the autosomal systems and are two to three times higher for the mtDNA sequence and Y-chromosome RSPs. This difference is expected because of the lower effective population size of mtDNA and Y chromosomes. A lower value is seen for Y-chromosome STRs, reflecting a relative lack of continental population structure, as a result of rapid mutation and genetic drift. Africa has higher GST values than does either Europe or Asia for all systems except the Y-chromosome STRs and Alus. All systems except the Y-chromosome STRs show less variation between populations within continents than between continents. These results are reassuring in their consistency and offer broad support for an African origin of modern human populations.

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DNA sequences of Alu elements indicate a recent replacement of the human autosomal genetic complement

DNA sequences of neutral nuclear autosomal loci, compared across diverse human populations, provide a previously untapped perspective into the mode and tempo of the emergence of modern humans and a critical comparison with published clonally inherited mitochondrial DNA and Y chromosome measurements of human diversity. We obtained over 55 kilobases of sequence from three autosomal loci encompassing Alu repeats for representatives of diverse human populations as well as orthologous sequences for other hominoid species at one of these loci. Nucleotide diversity was exceedingly low. Most individuals and populations were identical. Only a single nucleotide difference distinguished presumed ancestral alleles from descendants. These results differ from those expected if alleles from divergent archaic populations were maintained through multiregional continuity. The observed virtual lack of sequence polymorphism is the signature of a recent single origin for modern humans, with general replacement of archaic populations.

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Friday, March 26, 2004

Estimating Divergence Time with the Use of Microsatellite Genetic Distances: Impacts of Population Growth and Gene Flow

Genetic distances play an important role in estimating divergence time of bifurcated populations. However, they can be greatly affected by demographic processes, such as migration and population dynamics, which complicate their interpretation. For example, the widely used distance for microsatellite loci, (mu)2, assumes constant population size, no gene flow, and mutation-drift equilibrium. It is shown here that ((mu)2 strongly underestimates divergence time if populations are growing and/or connected by gene flow. In recent publications, the average estimate of divergence time between African and non-African populations obtained by using ((mu)2 is about 34,000 years, although archaeological data show a much earlier presence of modern humans out of Africa. I introduce a different estimator of population separation time based on microsatellite statistics, TD, that does not assume mutation-drift equilibrium, is independent of population dynamics in the absence of gene flow, and is robust to weak migration flow for growing populations. However, it requires a knowledge of the variance in the number of repeats at the beginning of population separation, V0. One way to overcome this problem is to find minimal and maximal bounds for the variance and thus obtain the earliest and latest bounds for divergence time (this is not a confidence interval, and it simply reflects an uncertainty about the value of V0 in an ancestral population). Another way to avoid the uncertainty is to choose from among present populations a reference whose variation is presumably close to what it might have been in an ancestral population. A different approach for using TD is to estimate the time difference between adjacent nodes on a phylogenetic population tree. Using data on variation at autosomal short tandem repeat loci with di-, tri-, and tetranucleotide repeats in worldwide populations, TD gives an estimate of 57,000 years for the separation of the out-of-Africa branch of modern humans from Africans based on the value of V0 in the Southern American Indian populations; the earliest bound for this event has been estimated to be about 135,000 years. The data also suggest that the Asian and European populations diverged from each other about 20,000 years, after the occurrence of the out-of-Africa branch.

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Thursday, March 25, 2004

The application of molecular genetic approaches to the study of human evolution

The past decade of advances in molecular genetic technology has heralded a new era for all evolutionary studies, but especially the science of human evolution. Data on various kinds of DNA variation in human populations have rapidly accumulated. There is increasing recognition of the importance of this variation for medicine and developmental biology and for understanding the history of our species. Haploid markers from mitochondrial DNA and the Y chromosome have proven invaluable for generating a standard model for evolution of modern humans. Conclusions from earlier research on protein polymorphisms have been generally supported by more sophisticated DNA analysis. Co-evolution of genes with language and some slowly evolving cultural traits, together with the genetic evolution of commensals and parasites that have accompanied modern humans in their expansion from Africa to the other continents, supports and supplements the standard model of genetic evolution. The advances in our understanding of the evolutionary history of humans attests to the advantages of multidisciplinary research.

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Linkage disequilibrium in the human genome

With the availability of a dense genome-wide map of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), a central issue in human genetics is whether it is now possible to use linkage disequilibrium (LD) to map genes that cause disease. LD refers to correlations among neighbouring alleles, reflecting 'haplotypes' descended from single, ancestral chromosomes. The size of LD blocks has been the subject of considerable debate. Computer simulations and empirical data have suggested that LD extends only a few kilobases (kb) around common SNPs, whereas other data have suggested that it can extend much further, in some cases greater than 100 kb. It has been difficult to obtain a systematic picture of LD because past studies have been based on only a few (1–3) loci and different populations. Here, we report a large-scale experiment using a uniform protocol to examine 19 randomly selected genomic regions. LD in a United States population of north-European descent typically extends 60 kb from common alleles, implying that LD mapping is likely to be practical in this population. By contrast, LD in a Nigerian population extends markedly less far. The results illuminate human history, suggesting that LD in northern Europeans is shaped by a marked demographic event about 27,000–53,000 years ago.

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Haplotypic relationship between SNP and microsatellite markers at the NOS2A locus in two populations

The density of genetic markers required for successful association mapping of complex diseases depends on linkage disequilibrium (LD) between non-functional markers and functional variants. The haplotypic relationship between stable markers and potentially unstable but highly informative markers (e.g. microsatellites) indicates that LD might be maintained over considerable genetic distance in non-African populations, supporting the use of such ‘mixed marker haplotypes’ in LD-based mapping, and allowing inferences to be drawn about human origins. We investigated sequence variation in the proximal 2.6 kb of the inducible nitric oxide synthase (NOS2A) promoter and the relationship between SNP haplotypes and a pentanucleotide microsatellite (the ‘NOS2A-2.6 microsatellite’) in Gambians and UK Caucasians. UK Caucasians exhibited a subset of sequence diversity observed in Gambians, sharing four of 11 SNPs and a similar haplotypic structure. Five SNPs were found in the sequence of interspersed repetitive DNA elements. In both populations, there was dramatic loss of LD between SNP haplotypes and microsatellite alleles across a very short physical distance, suggesting a high intrinsic mutation rate of the NOS2A-2.6 microsatellite, the SNP haplotypes are relatively ancient, or that this was a region of frequent recombination. Understanding locus- and population-specific LD is essential when designing and interpreting genetic association studies.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Genealogical and Evolutionary Inference with the Human Y Chromosome

Population genetics has emerged as a powerful tool for unraveling human history. In addition to the study of mitochondrial and autosomal DNA, attention has recently focused on Y-chromosome variation. Ambiguities and inaccuracies in data analysis, however, pose an important obstacle to further development of the field. Here we review the methods available for genealogical inference using Y-chromosome data. Approaches can be divided into those that do and those that do not use an explicit population model in genealogical inference. We describe the strengths and weaknesses of these model-based and model-free approaches, as well as difficulties associated with the mutation process that affect both methods. In the case of genealogical inference using microsatellite loci, we use coalescent simulations to show that relatively simple generalizations of the mutation process can greatly increase the accuracy of genealogical inference. Because model-free and model-based approaches have different biases and limitations, we conclude that there is considerable benefit in the continued use of both types of approaches.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Mutations arising in the wave front of an expanding population

The ability to infer the time and place of origin of a mutation can be very useful when reconstructing the evolutionary histories of populations and species. We use forward computer simulations of population growth, migration, and mutation in an analysis of an expanding population with a wave front that advances at a constant slow rate. A pronounced founder effect can be observed among mutations arising in this wave front where extreme population bottlenecks arise and are followed by major population growth. A fraction of mutations travel with the wave front and generate mutant populations that are on average much larger than those that remain stationary. Analysis of the diffusion of these mutants makes it possible to reconstruct migratory trajectories during population expansions, thus helping us better understand observed patterns in the evolution of species such as modern humans. Examination of some historical data supports our model.

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A Genome Scan to Detect Candidate Regions Influenced by Local Natural Selection in Human Populations

As human populations dispersed throughout the world, they were subjected to new selective forces, which must have led to local adaptation via natural selection and hence altered patterns of genetic variation. Yet, there are very few examples known in which such local selection has clearly influenced human genetic variation. A potential approach for detecting local selection is to screen random loci across the genome; those loci that exhibit unusually large genetic distances between human populations are then potential markers of genomic regions under local selection. We investigated this approach by genotyping 332 short tandem repeat (STR) loci in Africans and Europeans and calculating the genetic differentiation for each locus. Patterns of genetic diversity at these loci were consistent with greater variation in Africa and with local selection operating on populations as they moved out of Africa. For 11 loci exhibiting the largest genetic differences, we genotyped an additional STR locus located nearby; the genetic distances for these nearby loci were significantly larger than average. These genomic regions therefore reproducibly exhibit larger genetic distances between populations than the "average" genomic region, consistent with local selection. Our results demonstrate that genome scans are a promising means of identifying candidate regions that have been subjected to local selection.

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