Genetic Chaos

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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