Genetic Chaos

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Patterns of Ancestral Human Diversity: An Analysis of Alu-Insertion and Restriction-Site Polymorphisms

We have analyzed 35 widely distributed, polymorphic Alu loci in 715 individuals from 31 world populations. The average frequency of Alu insertions (the derived state) is lowest in Africa (.42) but is higher and similar in India (.55), Europe (.56), and Asia (.57). A comparison with 30 restriction-site polymorphisms (RSPs) for which the ancestral state has been determined shows that the frequency of derived RSP alleles is also lower in Africa (.35) than it is in Asia (.45) and in Europe (.46). Neighbor-joining networks based on Alu insertions or RSPs are rooted in Africa and show African populations as separate from other populations, with high statistical support. Correlations between genetic distances based on Alu and nuclear RSPs, short tandem-repeat polymorphisms, and mtDNA, in the same individuals, are high and significant. For the 35 loci, Alu gene diversity and the diversity attributable to population subdivision is highest in Africa but is lower and similar in Europe and Asia. The distribution of ancestral alleles is consistent with an origin of early modern human populations in sub-Saharan Africa, the isolation and preservation of ancestral alleles within Africa, and an expansion out of Africa into Eurasia. This expansion is characterized by increasing frequencies of Alu inserts and by derived RSP alleles with reduced genetic diversity in non-African populations.

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Genetic perspectives on human origins and differentiation

This is a review of genetic evidence about the ancient demography of the ancestors of our species and about the genesis of worldwide human diversity. The issue of whether or not a population size bottleneck occurred among our ancestors is under debate among geneticists as well as among anthropologists. The bottleneck, if it occurred, would confirm the Garden of Eden (GOE) model of the origin of modern humans. The competing model, multiregional evolution (MRE), posits that the number of human ancestors has been large, occupying much of the temperate Old World for the last two million years. While several classes of genetic marker seem to contain a strong signal of demographic recovery from a small number of ancestors, other nuclear loci show no such signal. The pattern at these loci is compatible with the existence of widespread balancing selection in humans. The study of human diversity at (putatively) neutral genetic marker loci has been hampered since the beginning by ascertainment bias since they were discovered in Europeans. The high levels of polymorphism at microsatellite loci means that they are free of this bias. Microsatellites exhibit a clear almost linear diversity gradient away from Africa, so that New World populations are approximately 15% less diverse than African populations. This pattern is not compatible with a model of a single large population expansion and colonization of most of the Earth by our ancestors but suggests, instead, gradual loss of diversity in successive colonization bottlenecks as our species grew and spread.

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Patterns of Human Diversity, within and among Continents, Inferred from Biallelic DNA Polymorphisms

Previous studies have reported that about 85% of human diversity at Short Tandem Repeat (STR) and Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphism (RFLP) autosomal loci is due to differences between individuals of the same population, whereas differences among continental groups account for only 10% of the overall genetic variance. These findings conflict with popular notions of distinct and relatively homogeneous human races, and may also call into question the apparent usefulness of ethnic classification in, for example, medical diagnostics. Here, we present new data on 21 Alu insertions in 32 populations. We analyze these data along with three other large, globally dispersed data sets consisting of apparently neutral biallelic nuclear markers, as well as with a beta-globin data set possibly subject to selection. We confirm the previous results for the autosomal data, and find a higher diversity among continents for Y-chromosome loci. We also extend the analyses to address two questions: (1) whether differences between continental groups, although small, are nevertheless large enough to confidently assign individuals to their continent on the basis of their genotypes; (2) whether the observed genotypes naturally cluster into continental or population groups when the sample source location is ignored. Using a range of statistical methods, we show that classification errors are at best around 30% for autosomal biallelic polymorphisms and 27% for the Y chromosome. Two data sets suggest the existence of three and four major groups of genotypes worldwide, respectively, and the two groupings are inconsistent. These results suggest that, at random biallelic loci, there is little evidence, if any, of a clear subdivision of humans into biologically defined groups.

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Categorization of humans in biomedical research: genes, race and disease

A debate has arisen regarding the validity of racial/ethnic categories for biomedical and genetic research. Some claim ‘no biological basis for race’ while others advocate a ‘race-neutral’ approach, using genetic clustering rather than self-identified ethnicity for human genetic categorization. We provide an epidemiologic perspective on the issue of human categorization in biomedical and genetic research that strongly supports the continued use of self-identified race and ethnicity.

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Short Tandem-Repeat Polymorphism/Alu Haplotype Variation at the PLAT Locus: Implications for Modern Human Origins

Two dinucleotide short tandem-repeat polymorphisms (STRPs) and a polymorphic Alu element spanning a 22-kb region of the PLAT locus on chromosome 8p12-q11.2 were typed in 1,287–1,420 individuals originating from 30 geographically diverse human populations, as well as in 29 great apes. These data were analyzed as haplotypes consisting of each of the dinucleotide repeats and the flanking Alu insertion/deletion polymorphism. The global pattern of STRP/Alu haplotype variation and linkage disequilibrium (LD) is informative for the reconstruction of human evolutionary history. Sub-Saharan African populations have high levels of haplotype diversity within and between populations, relative to non-Africans, and have highly divergent patterns of LD. Non-African populations have both a subset of the haplotype diversity present in Africa and a distinct pattern of LD. The pattern of haplotype variation and LD observed at the PLAT locus suggests a recent common ancestry of non-African populations, from a small population originating in eastern Africa. These data indicate that, throughout much of modern human history, sub-Saharan Africa has maintained both a large effective population size and a high level of population substructure. Additionally, Papua New Guinean and Micronesian populations have rare haplotypes observed otherwise only in African populations, suggesting ancient gene flow from Africa into Papua New Guinea, as well as gene flow between Melanesian and Micronesian populations.

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