Genetic Chaos

Monday, April 17, 2006

Extensive Linkage Disequilibrium in Small Human Populations in Eurasia

The extent of linkage disequilibrium (LD) was studied in two small food-gathering populations—Evenki and Saami—and two larger food-producing populations—Finns and Swedes—in northern Eurasia. In total, 50 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) from five genes were genotyped using real-time pyrophosphate DNA sequencing, whereas 14 microsatellites were genotyped in two X-chromosomal regions. In addition, hypervariable region I of the mtDNA was sequenced to shed light on the demographic history of the populations. The SNP data, as well as the microsatellite data, reveal extensive levels of LD in Evenki and Saami when compared to Finns and Swedes. mtDNA-sequence variation is compatible with constant population size over time in Evenki and Saami but indicates population expansion in Finns and Swedes. Furthermore, the similarity between Finns and Swedes in SNP allele- and haplotype-frequency distributions indicate that these two populations may share a recent common origin. These findings suggest that populations such as the Evenki and the Saami, rather than the Finns, may be particularly suited for the initial coarse mapping of common complex diseases.

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A family of human Y chromosomes has dispersed throughout northern Eurasia despite a 1.8-Mb deletion in the azoospermia factor c region

The human Y chromosome is replete with amplicons — very large, nearly identical repeats — which render it susceptible to interstitial deletions that often cause spermatogenic failure. Here we describe a recurrent, 1.8-Mb deletion that removes half of the azoospermia factor c (AZFc) region, including 12 members of eight testis-specific gene families. We show that this ‘‘b2/b3’’ deletion arose at least four times in human history — likely on inverted variants of the AZFc region that we find exist as common polymorphisms. We observed the b2/b3 deletion primarily in one family of closely related Y chromosomes — branch N in the Y-chromosome genealogy — in which all chromosomes carried the deletion. This branch is known to be widely distributed in northern Eurasia, accounts for the majority of Y chromosomes in some populations, and appears to be several thousand years old. The population-genetic success of the b2/b3 deletion is surprising, (i) because it removes half of AZFc and (ii) because the gr/gr deletion, which removes a similar set of testis-specific genes, predisposes to spermatogenic failure. Our present findings suggest either that the b2/b3 deletion has at most a modest effect on fitness or that, within branch N, its effect has been counterbalanced by another genetic, possibly Y-linked, factor.

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