Genetic Chaos

Monday, March 29, 2004

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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