Genetic Chaos

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Global variation in copy number in the human genome

Copy number variation (CNV) of DNA sequences is functionally significant but has yet to be fully ascertained. We have constructed a first-generation CNV map of the human genome through the study of 270 individuals from four populations with ancestry in Europe, Africa or Asia (the HapMap collection). DNA from these individuals was screened for CNV using two complementary technologies: single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) genotyping arrays, and clone-based comparative genomic hybridization. A total of 1,447 copy number variable regions (CNVRs), which can encompass overlapping or adjacent gains or losses, covering 360 megabases (12% of the genome) were identified in these populations. These CNVRs contained hundreds of genes, disease loci, functional elements and segmental duplications. Notably, the CNVRs encompassed more nucleotide content per genome than SNPs, underscoring the importance of CNV in genetic diversity and evolution. The data obtained delineate linkage disequilibrium patterns for many CNVs, and reveal marked variation in copy number among populations. We also demonstrate the utility of this resource for genetic disease studies.

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Geography and genography: prediction of continental origin using randomly selected single nucleotide polymorphisms

Recent studies have shown that when individuals are grouped on the basis of genetic similarity, group membership corresponds closely to continental origin. There has been considerable debate about the implications of these findings in the context of larger debates about race and the extent of genetic variation between groups. Some have argued that clustering according to continental origin demonstrates the existence of significant genetic differences between groups and that these differences may have important implications for differences in health and disease. Others argue that clustering according to continental origin requires the use of large amounts of genetic data or specifically chosen markers and is indicative only of very subtle genetic differences that are unlikely to have biomedical significance.

We used small numbers of randomly selected single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) from the International HapMap Project to train naïve Bayes classifiers for prediction of ancestral continent of origin. Predictive accuracy was tested on two independent data sets. Genetically similar groups should be difficult to distinguish, especially if only a small number of genetic markers are used. The genetic differences between continentally defined groups are sufficiently large that one can accurately predict ancestral continent of origin using only a minute, randomly selected fraction of the genetic variation present in the human genome. Genotype data from only 50 random SNPs was sufficient to predict ancestral continent of origin in our primary test data set with an average accuracy of 95%. Genetic variations informative about ancestry were common and widely distributed throughout the genome.

Accurate characterization of ancestry is possible using small numbers of randomly selected SNPs. The results presented here show how investigators conducting genetic association studies can use small numbers of arbitrarily chosen SNPs to identify stratification in study subjects and avoid false positive genotype-phenotype associations. Our findings also demonstrate the extent of variation between continentally defined groups and argue strongly against the contention that genetic differences between groups are too small to have biomedical significance.

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