Genetic Chaos

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

The Effective Mutation Rate at Y Chromosome Short Tandem Repeats, with Application to Human Population-Divergence Time

We estimate an effective mutation rate at an average Y chromosome short-tandem repeat locus as 6.9 × 10-4 per 25 years, with a standard deviation across loci of 5.7 × 10-4, using data on microsatellite variation within Y chromosome haplogroups defined by unique-event polymorphisms in populations with documented short-term histories, as well as comparative data on worldwide populations at both the Y chromosome and various autosomal loci. This value is used to estimate the times of the African Bantu expansion, the divergence of Polynesian populations (the Maoris, Cook Islanders, and Samoans), and the origin of Gypsy populations from Bulgaria.

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Monday, April 26, 2004

High-throughput Y-STR typing of U.S. populations with 27 regions of the Y chromosome using two multiplex PCR assays

Two Y-chromosome short tandem repeat (STR) multiplex polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assays were used to generate haplotypes for 19 single copy and 3 multi-copy Y-STRs. A total of 27 PCR products were examined in each sample using the following loci: DYS19, DYS385 a/b, DYS388, DYS389I/II, DYS390, DYS391, DYS392, DYS393, DYS426, DYS437, DYS438, DYS439, DYS447, DYS448, DYS450, DYS456, DYS458, DYS460, DYS464 a/b/c/d, H4, and YCAII a/b. The first multiplex is the Y-STR 20plex previously described by Butler et al. [Forensic Sci. Int. 129 (2002) 10]. The second multiplex is a novel Y-STR 11plex and includes DYS385 a/b, DYS447, DYS448 and the new markers DYS450, DYS456, DYS458, and DYS464 a/b/c/d. These two multiplexes were tested on 647 males from three United States population sample sets: 260 African Americans, 244 Caucasians, and 143 Hispanics. Haplotype comparisons between common loci included in the 20plex and 11plex assays as well as commercially available kits found excellent agreement across a sampling of the population samples. The multi-copy loci DYS464, DYS385, and YCAII were the most polymorphic followed by the following single copy Y-STRs: DYS458, DYS390, DYS447, DYS389II, DYS448, and DYS456. Samples containing the most common type in the European database could be well resolved with additional markers beyond the minimal haplotype loci.

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Multiplexed assays for evaluation of Y-SNP markers in US populations

Genetic markers located on the Y chromosome are of increasing importance in human identity testing. In an effort to evaluate the forensic utility of Y chromosome single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) markers, we constructed several novel multiplex allele-specific primer extension (ASPE) assays and utilized a new commercial allele-specific hybridization (ASH) multiplex kit to examine 50 Y-SNP markers in 229 males from two US Caucasian and African American populations. The novel ASPE assays covered 18 Y-SNP markers in three multiplex reactions while a commercial ASH kit was used to type 42 Y-SNPs plus amelogenin for sex-typing purposes. There were 10 overlapping loci between the ASPE and ASH methods permitting an evaluation of concordance on over 2000 allele calls. The 50 Y-SNP markers examined in this study define 45 of the 159 possible Y Chromosome Consortium (YCC) haplogroups. Only 18 different haplogroups were observed in our samples.

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Y-SNP Typing of U.S. African American and Caucasian Samples Using Allele-Specific Hybridization and Primer Extension

Multiplex analysis of genetic markers has become increasingly important in a number of fields, including DNA diagnostics and human identity testing. Two methods for examination of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) with a potential for a high degree of multiplex analysis of markers are primer extension with fluorescence detection, and allele-specific hybridization using flow cytometry. In this paper, we examined 50 different SNPs on the Y- chromosome using three primer extension multiplexes and five hybridization multiplex assays. For certain loci, the allele-specific hybridization method exhibited sizable background signal from the absent alternate allele. However, 100% concordance (>2000 alleles) was observed in ten markers that were typed using both methods. A total of 18 unique haplogroups out of a possible 45 were observed in a group of 229 U.S. African American and Caucasian males with the majority of samples being assigned into 2 of the 18 haplogroups.

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Friday, April 23, 2004

Sequence variations in the public human genome data reflect a bottlenecked population history

Single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) constitute the great majority of variations in the human genome, and as heritable variable landmarks they are useful markers for disease mapping and resolving population structure. Redundant coverage in overlaps of large-insert genomic clones, sequenced as part of the Human Genome Project, comprises a quarter of the genome, and it is representative in terms of base compositional and functional sequence features. We mined these regions to produce 500,000 high-confidence SNP candidates as a uniform resource for describing nucleotide diversity and its regional variation within the genome. Distributions of marker density observed at different overlap length scales under a model of recombination and population size change show that the history of the population represented by the public genome sequence is one of collapse followed by a recent phase of mild size recovery. The inferred times of collapse and recovery are Upper Paleolithic, in agreement with archaeological evidence of the initial modern human colonization of Europe.

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Thursday, April 22, 2004

Worldwide Genetic Analysis of the CFTR Region

Mutations at the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator gene (CFTR) cause cystic fibrosis, the most prevalent severe genetic disorder in individuals of European descent. We have analyzed normal allele and haplotype variation at four short tandem repeat polymorphisms (STRPs) and two single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in CFTR in 18 worldwide population samples, comprising a total of 1,944 chromosomes. The rooted phylogeny of the SNP haplotypes was established by typing ape samples. STRP variation within SNP haplotype backgrounds was highest in most ancestral haplotypes—although, when STRP allele sizes were taken into account, differences among haplotypes became smaller. Haplotype background determines STRP diversity to a greater extent than populations do, which indicates that haplotype backgrounds are older than populations. Heterogeneity among STRPs can be understood as the outcome of differences in mutation rate and pattern. STRP sites had higher heterozygosities in Africans, although, when whole haplotypes were considered, no significant differences remained. Linkage disequilibrium (LD) shows a complex pattern not easily related to physical distance. The analysis of the fraction of possible different haplotypes not found may circumvent some of the methodological difficulties of LD measure. LD analysis showed a positive correlation with locus polymorphism, which could partly explain the unusual pattern of similar LD between Africans and non-Africans. The low values found in non-Africans may imply that the size of the modern human population that emerged “Out of Africa” may be larger than what previous LD studies suggested.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Distribution of haplotypes from a chromosome 21 region distinguishes multiple prehistoric human migrations

Despite mounting genetic evidence implicating a recent origin of modern humans, the elucidation of early migratory gene-flow episodes remains incomplete. Geographic distribution of haplotypes may show traces of ancestral migrations. However, such evolutionary signatures can be erased easily by recombination and mutational perturbations. A 565-bp chromosome 21 region near the MX1 gene, which contains nine sites frequently polymorphic in human populations, has been found. It is unaffected by recombination and recurrent mutation and thus reflects only migratory history, genetic drift, and possibly selection. Geographic distribution of contemporary haplotypes implies distinctive prehistoric human migrations: one to Oceania, one to Asia and subsequently to America, and a third one predominantly to Europe. The findings with chromosome 21 are confirmed by independent evidence from a Y chromosome phylogeny. Loci of this type will help to decipher the evolutionary history of modern humans.

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Natural selection shaped regional mtDNA variation in humans

Human mtDNA shows striking regional variation, traditionally attributed to genetic drift. However, it is not easy to account for the fact that only two mtDNA lineages (M and N) left Africa to colonize Eurasia and that lineages A, C, D, and G show a 5-fold enrichment from central Asia to Siberia. As an alternative to drift, natural selection might have enriched for certain mtDNA lineages as people migrated north into colder climates. To test this hypothesis we analyzed 104 complete mtDNA sequences from all global regions and lineages. African mtDNA variation did not significantly deviate from the standard neutral model, but European, Asian, and Siberian plus Native American variations did. Analysis of amino acid substitution mutations (nonsynonymous, Ka) versus neutral mutations (synonymous, Ks) (ka/ks) for all 13 mtDNA protein-coding genes revealed that the ATP6 gene had the highest amino acid sequence variation of any human mtDNA gene, even though ATP6 is one of the more conserved mtDNA proteins. Comparison of the ka/ks ratios for each mtDNA gene from the tropical, temperate, and arctic zones revealed that ATP6 was highly variable in the mtDNAs from the arctic zone, cytochrome b was particularly variable in the temperate zone, and cytochrome oxidase I was notably more variable in the tropics. Moreover, multiple amino acid changes found in ATP6, cytochrome b, and cytochrome oxidase I appeared to be functionally significant. From these analyses we conclude that selection may have played a role in shaping human regional mtDNA variation and that one of the selective influences was climate.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Network Analyses of Y-Chromosomal Types in Europe, Northern Africa, and Western Asia Reveal Specific Patterns of Geographic Distribution

In a study of 908 males from Europe, northern Africa, and western Asia, the variation of four Y-linked dinucleotide microsatellites was analyzed within three “frames” that are defined by mutations that are nonrecurrent, or nearly so. The rapid generation and extinction of new dinucleotide length variants causes the haplotypes within each lineage to diverge from one another. We constructed networks of “adjacent” haplotypes within each frame, by assuming changes of a single dinucleotide unit. Two small and six large networks were obtained, the latter including 94.9% of the sampled Y chromosomes. We show that the phenetic relationships among haplotypes, represented as a network, result largely from common descent and subsequent molecular radiation. The grouping of haplotypes of the same network thus fits an evolutionarily relevant criterion. Notably, this method allows the total diversity within a sample to be partitioned. Networks can be considered optimal markers for population studies, because reliable frequency estimates can be obtained in small samples. We present synthetic maps describing the incidence of different Y-chromosomal lineages in the extant human populations of the surveyed areas. Dinucleotide diversity also was used to infer time intervals for the coalescence of each network.

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Short tandem repeat polymorphism evolution in humans

Forty-five dinucleotide short tandem repeat polymorphisms were typed in ten large samples of a globally distributed set of populations. Although these markers had been selected for high heterozygosity in European populations, we found them to be sufficiently informative for linkage analysis in non-Europeans. Heterozygosity, mean number of alleles, and mean number of private alleles followed a common trend: they were highest in the African samples, were somewhat lower in Europeans and East Asians, and were lowest in Amerindians. Genetic distances also reflected this pattern, and distances modelled after the stepwise mutation model yielded trees that were less in agreement with other genetic and archaeological evidence than distances based on differentiation by drift (FST). Genetic variation in non-Africans seems to be a subset of that in Africans, supporting the replacement hypothesis for the origin of modern humans.

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A Global Perspective on Genetic Variation at the ADH Genes Reveals Unusual Patterns of Linkage Disequilibrium and Diversity

Variants of different Class I alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) genes have been shown to be associated with an effect that is protective against alcoholism. Previous work from our laboratory has shown that the two sites showing the association are in linkage disequilibrium and has identified the ADH1B Arg47His site as causative, with the ADH1C Ile349Val site showing association only because of the disequilibrium. Here, we describe an initial study of the nature of linkage disequilibrium and genetic variation, in population samples from different regions of the world, in a larger segment of the ADH cluster (including the three Class I ADH genes and ADH7). Linkage disequilibrium across ~40 kb of the Class I ADH cluster is moderate to strong in all population samples that we studied. We observed nominally significant pairwise linkage disequilibrium, in some populations, between the ADH7 site and some Class I ADH sites, at moderate values and at a molecular distance as great as 100 kb. Our data indicate (1) that most ADH-alcoholism association studies have failed to consider many sites in the ADH cluster that may harbor etiologically significant alleles and (2) that the relevance of the various ADH sites will be population dependent. Some individual sites in the Class I ADH cluster show Fst values that are among the highest seen among several dozen unlinked sites that were studied in the same subset of populations. The high Fst values can be attributed to the discrepant frequencies of specific alleles in eastern Asia relative to those in other regions of the world. These alleles are part of a single haplotype that exists at high (>65%) frequency only in the eastern-Asian samples. It seems unlikely that this haplotype, which is rare or unobserved in other populations, reached such high frequency because of random genetic drift alone.

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Monday, April 19, 2004

A Global Haplotype Analysis of the Myotonic Dystrophy Locus: Implications for the Evolution of Modern Humans and for the Origin of Myotonic Dystrophy Mutations

Haplotypes consisting of the (CTG)n repeat, as well as several flanking markers at the myotonic dystrophy (DM) locus, were analyzed in normal individuals from 25 human populations (5 African, 2 Middle Eastern, 3 European, 6 East Asian, 3 Pacific/Australo-Melanesian, and 6 Amerindian) and in five nonhuman primate species. Non-African populations have a subset of the haplotype diversity present in Africa, as well as a shared pattern of allelic association. (CTG)18–35 alleles (large normal) were observed only in northeastern African and non-African populations and exhibit strong linkage disequilibrium with three markers flanking the (CTG)n repeat. The pattern of haplotype diversity and linkage disequilibrium observed supports a recent African-origin model of modern human evolution and suggests that the original mutation event that gave rise to DM-causing alleles arose in a population ancestral to non-Africans prior to migration of modern humans out of Africa.

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Friday, April 16, 2004

Alu Repeats and Human Genomic Diversity

During the past 65 million years, Alu elements have propagated to more than one million copies in primate genomes, which has resulted in the generation of a series of Alu subfamilies of different ages. Alu elements affect the genome in several ways, causing insertion mutations, recombination between elements, gene conversion and alterations in gene expression. Alu-insertion polymorphisms are a boon for the study of human population genetics and primate comparative genomics because they are neutral genetic markers of identical descent with known ancestral states.

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Friday, April 09, 2004

Hierarchical Patterns of Global Human Y-Chromosome Diversity

We examined 43 biallelic polymorphisms on the nonrecombining portion of the Y chromosome (NRY) in 50 human populations encompassing a total of 2,858 males to study the geographic structure of Y-chromosome variation. Patterns of NRY diversity varied according to geographic region and method/level of comparison. For example, populations from Central Asia had the highest levels of heterozygosity, while African populations exhibited a higher level of mean pairwise differences among haplotypes. At the global level, 36% of the total variance of NRY haplotypes was attributable to differences among populations (i.e., ST = 0.36). When a series of AMOVA analyses was performed on different groupings of the 50 populations, high levels of among-groups variance (CT) were found between Africans, Native Americans, and a single group containing all 36 remaining populations. The same three population groupings formed distinct clusters in multidimensional scaling plots. A nested cladistic analysis (NCA) demonstrated that both population structure processes (recurrent gene flow restricted by isolation by distance and long-distance dispersals) and population history events (contiguous range expansions and long-distance colonizations) were instrumental in explaining this tripartite division of global NRY diversity. As in our previous analyses of smaller NRY data sets, the NCA detected a global contiguous range expansion out of Africa at the level of the total cladogram. Our new results support a general scenario in which, after an early out-of-Africa range expansion, global-scale patterns of NRY variation were mainly influenced by migrations out of Asia. Two other notable findings of the NCA were (1) Europe as a ‘‘receiver’’ of intercontinental signals primarily from Asia, and (2) the large number of intracontinental signals within Africa. Our AMOVA analyses also supported the hypothesis that patrilocality effects are evident at local and regional scales, rather than at intercontinental and global levels. Finally, our results underscore the importance of subdivision of the human paternal gene pool and imply that caution should be exercised when using models and experimental strategies based on the assumption of panmixia.

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Human Genetic Affinities for Y-Chromosome P49a,f/TaqI Haplotypes Show Strong Correspondence with Linguistics

Numerous population samples from around the world have been tested for Y chromosome-specific p49a,f/TaqI restriction polymorphisms. Here we review the literature as well as unpublished data on Y-chromosome p49a,f/TaqI haplotypes and provide a new nomenclature unifying the notations used by different laboratories. We use this large data set to study worldwide genetic variability of human populations for this paternally transmitted chromosome segment. We observe, for the Y chromosome, an important level of population genetic structure among human populations (FST = .230, P < .001), mainly due to genetic differences among distinct linguistic groups of populations (FCT = .246, P < .001). A multivariate analysis based on genetic distances between populations shows that human population structure inferred from the Y chromosome corresponds broadly to language families (r = .567, P < .001), in agreement with autosomal and mitochondrial data. Times of divergence of linguistic families, estimated from their internal level of genetic differentiation, are fairly concordant with current archaeological and linguistic hypotheses. Variability of the p49a,f/TaqI polymorphic marker is also significantly correlated with the geographic location of the populations (r = .613, P < .001), reflecting the fact that distinct linguistic groups generally also occupy distinct geographic areas. Comparison of Y-chromosome and mtDNA RFLPs in a restricted set of populations shows a globally high level of congruence, but it also allows identification of unequal maternal and paternal contributions to the gene pool of several populations.

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Evidence for Variable Selective Pressures at MC1R

It is widely assumed that genes that influence variation in skin and hair pigmentation are under selection. To date, the melanocortin 1 receptor (MC1R) is the only gene identified that explains substantial phenotypic variance in human pigmentation. Here we investigate MC1R polymorphism in several populations, for evidence of selection. We conclude that MC1R is under strong functional constraint in Africa, where any diversion from eumelanin production (black pigmentation) appears to be evolutionarily deleterious. Although many of the MC1R amino acid variants observed in non-African populations do affect MC1R function and contribute to high levels of MC1R diversity in Europeans, we found no evidence, in either the magnitude or the patterns of diversity, for its enhancement by selection; rather, our analyses show that levels of MC1R polymorphism simply reflect neutral expectations under relaxation of strong functional constraint outside Africa.

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What Controls Variation in Human Skin Color?

Diversity of human appearance and form has intrigued biologists for centuries, but nearly 100 years after the term “genetics’’ was coined by William Bateson in 1906, the genes that underlie this diversity are an unsolved mystery. One of the most obvious phenotypes that distinguish members of our species, differences in skin pigmentation, is also one of the most enigmatic. There is a tremendous range of human skin color in which variation can be correlated with climates, continents, and/or cultures, yet we know very little about the underlying genetic architecture. Is the number of common skin color genes closer to five, 50, or 500? Do gain- and loss-of-function alleles for a small set of genes give rise to phenotypes at opposite ends of the pigmentary spectrum? Has the effect of natural selection on similar pigmentation phenotypes proceeded independently via similar pathways? And, finally, should we care about the genetics of human pigmentation if it is only skin-deep?

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Skin pigmentation, biogeographical ancestry and admixture mapping

Ancestry informative markers (AIMs) are genetic loci showing alleles with large frequency differences between populations. AIMs can be used to estimate biogeographical ancestry at the level of the population, subgroup (e.g. cases and controls) and individual. Ancestry estimates at both the subgroup and individual level can be directly instructive regarding the genetics of the phenotypes that differ qualitatively or in frequency between populations. These estimates can provide a compelling foundation for the use of admixture mapping (AM) methods to identify the genes underlying these traits. We present details of a panel of 34 AIMs and demonstrate how such studies can proceed, by using skin pigmentation as a model phenotype. We have genotyped these markers in two population samples with primarily African ancestry, viz. African Americans from Washington D.C. and an African Caribbean sample from Britain, and in a sample of European Americans from Pennsylvania. In the two African population samples, we observed significant correlations between estimates of individual ancestry and skin pigmentation as measured by reflectometry (R2=0.21, P<0.0001 for the African-American sample and R2=0.16, P<0.0001 for the British African-Caribbean sample). These correlations confirm the validity of the ancestry estimates and also indicate the high level of population structure related to admixture, a level that characterizes these populations and that is detectable by using other tests to identify genetic structure. We have also applied two methods of admixture mapping to test for the effects of three candidate genes (TYR, OCA2, MC1R) on pigmentation. We show that TYR and OCA2 have measurable effects on skin pigmentation differences between the west African and west European parental populations. This work indicates that it is possible to estimate the individual ancestry of a person based on DNA analysis with a reasonable number of well-defined genetic markers. The implications and applications of ancestry estimates in biomedical research are discussed.

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Human Population Genetic Structure and Inference of Group Membership

A major goal of biomedical research is to develop the capability to provide highly personalized health care. To do so, it is necessary to understand the distribution of interindividual genetic variation at loci underlying physical characteristics, disease susceptibility, and response to treatment. Variation at these loci commonly exhibits geographic structuring and may contribute to phenotypic differences between groups. Thus, in some situations, it may be important to consider these groups separately. Membership in these groups is commonly inferred by use of a proxy such as place-of-origin or ethnic affiliation. These inferences are frequently weakened, however, by use of surrogates, such as skin color, for these proxies, the distribution of which bears little resemblance to the distribution of neutral genetic variation. Consequently, it has become increasingly controversial whether proxies are sufficient and accurate representations of groups inferred from neutral genetic variation. This raises three questions: how many data are required to identify population structure at a meaningful level of resolution, to what level can population structure be resolved, and do some proxies represent population structure accurately? We assayed 100 Alu insertion polymorphisms in a heterogeneous collection of ~565 individuals, ~200 of whom were also typed for 60 microsatellites. Stripped of identifying information, correct assignment to the continent of origin (Africa, Asia, or Europe) with a mean accuracy of at least 90% required a minimum of 60 Alu markers or microsatellites and reached 99%–100% when at least 100 loci were used. Less accurate assignment (87%) to the appropriate genetic cluster was possible for a historically admixed sample from southern India. These results set a minimum for the number of markers that must be tested to make strong inferences about detecting population structure among Old World populations under ideal experimental conditions. We note that, whereas some proxies correspond crudely, if at all, to population structure, the heuristic value of others is much higher. This suggests that a more flexible framework is needed for making inferences about population structure and the utility of proxies.

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Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Genetic Traces of Ancient Demography

Patterns of gene differences among humans contain information about the demographic history of our species. Haploid loci like mitochondrial DNA and the non-recombining part of the Y chromosome show a pattern indicating expansion from a population of only several thousand during the late middle or early upper Pleistocene. Nuclear short tandem repeat loci also show evidence of this expansion. Both mitochondrial DNA and the Y chromosome coalesce within the last several hundred thousand years, and they cannot provide information about the population before their coalescence. Several nuclear loci are informative about our ancestral population size during nearly the whole Pleistocene. They indicate a small effective size, on the order of 10,000 breeding individuals, throughout this time period. This genetic evidence denies any version of the multiregional model of modern human origins. It implies instead that our ancestors were effectively a separate species for most of the Pleistocene.

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Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Haplotypes in the Dystrophin DNA Segment Point to a Mosaic Origin of Modern Human Diversity

Although Africa has played a central role in human evolutionary history, certain studies have suggested that not all contemporary human genetic diversity is of recent African origin. We investigated 35 simple polymorphic sites and one Tn microsatellite in an 8-kb segment of the dystrophin gene. We found 86 haplotypes in 1,343 chromosomes from around the world. Although a classical out-of-Africa topology was observed in trees based on the variant frequencies, the tree of haplotype sequences reveals three lineages accounting for present-day diversity. The proportion of new recombinants and the diversity of the Tn microsatellite were used to estimate the age of haplotype lineages and the time of colonization events. The lineage that underwent the great expansion originated in Africa prior to the Upper Paleolithic (27,000–56,000 years ago). A second group, of structurally distinct haplotypes that occupy a central position on the tree, has never left Africa. The third lineage is represented by the haplotype that lies closest to the root, is virtually absent in Africa, and appears older than the recent out-of-Africa expansion. We propose that this lineage could have left Africa before the expansion (as early as 160,000 years ago) and admixed, outside of Africa, with the expanding lineage. Contemporary human diversity, although dominated by the recently expanded African lineage, thus represents a mosaic of different contributions.

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Informativeness of Genetic Markers for Inference of Ancestry

Inference of individual ancestry is useful in various applications, such as admixture mapping and structured association mapping. Using information-theoretic principles, we introduce a general measure, the informativeness for assignment (In), applicable to any number of potential source populations, for determining the amount of information that multiallelic markers provide about individual ancestry. In a worldwide human microsatellite data set, we identify markers of highest informativeness for inference of regional ancestry and for inference of population ancestry within regions; these markers, which are listed in online-only tables in our article, can be useful both in testing for and in controlling the influence of ancestry on case-control genetic association studies. Markers that are informative in one collection of source populations are generally informative in others. Informativeness of random dinucleotides, the most informative class of microsatellites, is five to eight times that of random single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), but 2%–12% of SNPs have higher informativeness than the median for dinucleotides. Our results can aid in decisions about the type, quantity, and specific choice of markers for use in studies of ancestry.

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Monday, April 05, 2004

Population genomics: a bridge from evolutionary history to genetic medicine

Studies of human genetic variation are making contributions in several key areas. Evolutionary genetic studies yield critical clues about the histories of human populations, and they provide substantial support for an African origin of modern humans. The analysis of genetic variation has formed a foundation for DNA-based forensic applications. And, as attention is focused on locating genes underlying complex diseases, it is becoming clear that a better understanding of genetic variation will help to guide gene-mapping efforts. Population genomics, the large-scale comparison of DNA sequences, is now beginning to provide new insights in these areas. We review some of the general patterns of human genetic variation, and we show how our knowledge of these patterns can aid in the mapping and cloning of disease-causing genes.

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Mitochondrial DNA: a tool for populational genetics studies

Mitochondria are cellular organelles that have the function of the oxidative phosphorilation and the formation of ATP. In humans, the mtDNA is a double-stranded, circular, covalent closed molecule of 16.5 kb. The mtDNA is inherited as a haploid from the mother and heteroplasmy has been found rarely. From a populational perspective, it could be considered as a system of small, sexually isolated demes, or clonal lineages, with an evolutionary rate 5 to 10 times faster than the nuclear genome. All these characteristics make this molecule ideal for evolutionary studies. We present two applications of this molecule in genetical studies. One of these is referred to the Balearic Islands populations, Majorca, Minorca, Ibiza, and Chuetas. The other example is the populational dynamics of the different mitochondrial haplotypes in Drosophila subobscura. We also discuss the importance of nuclear markers to complete these studies as well as the study of the Y chromosome to compensate the bias produced by the study of only the mtDNA.

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Friday, April 02, 2004

Rare Deep-Rooting Y Chromosome Lineages in Humans: Lessons for Phylogeography

There has been considerable debate on the geographic origin of the human Y chromosome Alu polymorphism (YAP). Here we report a new, very rare deep-rooting haplogroup within the YAP clade, together with data on other deep-rooting YAP clades. The new haplogroup, found so far in only five Nigerians, is the least-derived YAP haplogroup according to currently known binary markers. However, because the interior branching order of the Y chromosome genealogical tree remains unknown, it is impossible to impute the origin of the YAP clade with certainty. We discuss the problems presented by rare deep-rooting lineages for Y chromosome phylogeography.

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