Genetic Chaos

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

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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