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Concept: Genetic drift


Hybridization between humans and Neanderthals has resulted in a low level of Neanderthal ancestry scattered across the genomes of many modern-day humans. After hybridization, on average, selection appears to have removed Neanderthal alleles from the human population. Quantifying the strength and causes of this selection against Neanderthal ancestry is key to understanding our relationship to Neanderthals and, more broadly, how populations remain distinct after secondary contact. Here, we develop a novel method for estimating the genome-wide average strength of selection and the density of selected sites using estimates of Neanderthal allele frequency along the genomes of modern-day humans. We confirm that East Asians had somewhat higher initial levels of Neanderthal ancestry than Europeans even after accounting for selection. We find that the bulk of purifying selection against Neanderthal ancestry is best understood as acting on many weakly deleterious alleles. We propose that the majority of these alleles were effectively neutral-and segregating at high frequency-in Neanderthals, but became selected against after entering human populations of much larger effective size. While individually of small effect, these alleles potentially imposed a heavy genetic load on the early-generation human-Neanderthal hybrids. This work suggests that differences in effective population size may play a far more important role in shaping levels of introgression than previously thought.

Concepts: Genetics, Human, Natural selection, Population ecology, Population genetics, Neanderthal, Genetic drift, World population


Insertion-deletion polymorphisms (INDELs) are diallelic markers derived from a single mutation event. Their low mutation frequency makes them suitable for forensic and parentage testing. The examination of INDELs thus combines advantages of both short tandem repeats (STR) and single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP). This type of polymorphisms may be examined using as small amplicon size as SNP (about 100 bp) but could be analyzed by techniques used for routine STR analysis. For our population study, we genotyped 55 unrelated Czech individuals. We also genotyped 11 trios to analyze DIPplex Kit (QIAGEN, Germany) suitability for parentage testing. DIPplex Kit contains 30 diallelic autosomal markers. INDELs in DIPplex Kit were tested with linkage disequilibrium test, which showed that they could be treated as independent markers. All 30 loci fulfill Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium. There were several significant differences between Czech and African populations, but no significant ones within European population. Probability of a match in the Czech population was 1 in 6.8 × 10(12); combined power of discrimination was 99.9999999999%. Average paternity index was 1.13-1.77 for each locus; combined paternity index reached about 27,000 for a set of 30 loci. We can conclude that DIPplex kit is useful as an additional panel of markers in paternity cases when mutations in STR polymorphisms are present. For application on degraded or inhibited samples, further optimization of buffer and primer concentrations is needed.

Concepts: DNA, Genetics, Mutation, Frameshift mutation, Population genetics, Mutation rate, Short tandem repeat, Genetic drift


Although the human germline mutation rate is higher than that in any other well-studied species, the rate is not exceptional once the effective genome size and effective population size are taken into consideration. Human somatic mutation rates are substantially elevated above those in the germline, but this is also seen in other species. What is exceptional about humans is the recent detachment from the challenges of the natural environment and the ability to modify phenotypic traits in ways that mitigate the fitness effects of mutations, e.g., precision and personalized medicine. This results in a relaxation of selection against mildly deleterious mutations, including those magnifying the mutation rate itself. The long-term consequence of such effects is an expected genetic deterioration in the baseline human condition, potentially measurable on the timescale of a few generations in westernized societies, and because the brain is a particularly large mutational target, this is of particular concern. Ultimately, the price will have to be covered by further investment in various forms of medical intervention. Resolving the uncertainties of the magnitude and timescale of these effects will require the establishment of stable, standardized, multigenerational measurement procedures for various human traits.

Concepts: DNA, Mutation, Natural selection, Evolution, Evolutionary biology, Population genetics, Mutation rate, Genetic drift


To understand how geographical differentiation of gobioid fish species led to speciation, two populations of the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan for each of the two gobioid species, Pterogobius elapoides and Pterogobius zonoleucus, were studies in both morphological and molecular features. Analyzing mitochondrial genes, Akihito et al. (2008) suggested that P. zonoleucus does not form a monophyletic clade relative to P. elapoides, indicating that “Sea of Japan P. zonoleucus” and P. elapoides form a clade excluding “Pacific P. zonoleucus” as an outgroup. Because morphological classification clearly distinguish these two species and a gene tree may differ from a population tree, we examined three nuclear genes, S7RP, RAG1, and TBR1, in this work, in order to determine whether nuclear and mitochondrial trees are concordant, thus shedding light on the evolutionary history of this group of fishes. Importantly, nuclear trees were based on exactly the same individuals that were used for the previously published mtDNA trees. The tree based on RAG1 exon sequences suggested a closer relationship of P. elapoides with “Sea of Japan P. zonoleucus”, which was in agreement with the mitochondrial tree. In contrast, S7RP and TBR1 introns recovered a monophyletic P. zonoleucus. If the mitochondrial tree represents the population tree in which P. elapoides evolved from “Sea of Japan P. zonoleucus”, the population size of P. elapoides is expected to be smaller than that of “Sea of Japan P. zonoleucus”. This is because a smaller population of the new species is usually differentiated from a larger population of the ancestral species when the speciation occurred. However, we found no evidence of such a small population size during the evolution of P. elapoides. Therefore, we conclude that the monophyletic P. zonoleucus as suggested by S7RP and TBR1 most likely represents the population tree, which is consistent with the morphological classification. In this case, it is possible that the incongruent mitochondrial and RAG1 trees are either due to incomplete lineage sorting of ancestral polymorphisms or to introgression by hybridization. Because of a smaller effective population size of mitochondria compared with nuclear genes, the introgression might be a more likely scenario in explaining the incongruent mitochondrial tree than the incomplete lineage sorting. Because of smaller effective population size of “Sea of Japan P. zonoleucus” than that of P. elapoides, the direction of the introgression was likely to be from the latter to the former. This evolutionary work of the two gobioid species highlights the need of analyzing multiple gene trees for both nuclear and mitochondrial genes as well as scrutinization of morphological characteristics to obtain a population tree representing the organismal evolutionary history.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Evolution, Biology, Mitochondrial DNA, Population genetics, Pacific Ocean, Genetic drift


The universal facial attractiveness (UFA) hypothesis proposes that some facial features are universally preferred because they are reliable signals of mate quality. The primary evidence for this hypothesis comes from cross-cultural studies of perceived attractiveness. However, these studies do not directly address patterns of morphological variation at the population level. An unanswered question is therefore: Are universally preferred facial phenotypes geographically invariant, as the UFA hypothesis implies? The purpose of our study is to evaluate this often overlooked aspect of the UFA hypothesis by examining patterns of geographic variation in chin shape. We collected symphyseal outlines from 180 recent human mandibles (90 male, 90 female) representing nine geographic regions. Elliptical Fourier functions analysis was used to quantify chin shape, and principle components analysis was used to compute shape descriptors. In contrast to the expectations of the UFA hypothesis, we found significant geographic differences in male and female chin shape. These findings are consistent with region-specific sexual selection and/or random genetic drift, but not universal sexual selection. We recommend that future studies of facial attractiveness take into consideration patterns of morphological variation within and between diverse human populations.

Concepts: Mutation, Natural selection, Demography, Population, Population genetics, Selection, Genetic drift, Physical attractiveness


Schistosoma mansoni is a parasitic fluke that infects millions of people in the developing world. This study presents the first application of population genomics to S. mansoni based on high-coverage resequencing data from 10 global isolates and an isolate of the closely-related Schistosoma rodhaini, which infects rodents. Using population genetic tests, we document genes under directional and balancing selection in S. mansoni that may facilitate adaptation to the human host. Coalescence modeling reveals the speciation of S. mansoni and S. rodhaini as 107.5-147.6KYA, a period which overlaps with the earliest archaeological evidence for fishing in Africa. Our results indicate that S. mansoni originated in East Africa and experienced a decline in effective population size 20-90KYA, before dispersing across the continent during the Holocene. In addition, we find strong evidence that S. mansoni migrated to the New World with the 16-19(th) Century Atlantic Slave Trade.

Concepts: Genetics, Natural selection, Africa, Europe, Population genetics, Genetic drift, Slavery, Atlantic slave trade


Major advances in crop yields are needed in the coming decades. However, plant breeding is currently limited by incremental improvements in quantitative traits that often rely on laborious selection of rare naturally occurring mutations in gene-regulatory regions. Here, we demonstrate that CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing of promoters generates diverse cis-regulatory alleles that provide beneficial quantitative variation for breeding. We devised a simple genetic scheme, which exploits trans-generational heritability of Cas9 activity in heterozygous loss-of-function mutant backgrounds, to rapidly evaluate the phenotypic impact of numerous promoter variants for genes regulating three major productivity traits in tomato: fruit size, inflorescence branching, and plant architecture. Our approach allows immediate selection and fixation of novel alleles in transgene-free plants and fine manipulation of yield components. Beyond a platform to enhance variation for diverse agricultural traits, our findings provide a foundation for dissecting complex relationships between gene-regulatory changes and control of quantitative traits.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Mutation, Natural selection, Evolution, Fruit, Genetic drift


Human genome-wide association studies (GWASs) are revealing the genetic architecture of anthropomorphic and biomedical traits, i.e., the frequencies and effect sizes of variants that contribute to heritable variation in a trait. To interpret these findings, we need to understand how genetic architecture is shaped by basic population genetics processes-notably, by mutation, natural selection, and genetic drift. Because many quantitative traits are subject to stabilizing selection and because genetic variation that affects one trait often affects many others, we model the genetic architecture of a focal trait that arises under stabilizing selection in a multidimensional trait space. We solve the model for the phenotypic distribution and allelic dynamics at steady state and derive robust, closed-form solutions for summary statistics of the genetic architecture. Our results provide a simple interpretation for missing heritability and why it varies among traits. They predict that the distribution of variances contributed by loci identified in GWASs is well approximated by a simple functional form that depends on a single parameter: the expected contribution to genetic variance of a strongly selected site affecting the trait. We test this prediction against the results of GWASs for height and body mass index (BMI) and find that it fits the data well, allowing us to make inferences about the degree of pleiotropy and mutational target size for these traits. Our findings help to explain why the GWAS for height explains more of the heritable variance than the similarly sized GWAS for BMI and to predict the increase in explained heritability with study sample size. Considering the demographic history of European populations, in which these GWASs were performed, we further find that most of the associations they identified likely involve mutations that arose during the Out-of-Africa bottleneck at sites with selection coefficients around s = 10-3.

Concepts: Genetics, Mutation, Natural selection, Evolution, Biology, Population genetics, Selection, Genetic drift


The evolution of drug resistance in HIV occurs by the fixation of specific, well-known, drug-resistance mutations, but the underlying population genetic processes are not well understood. By analyzing within-patient longitudinal sequence data, we make four observations that shed a light on the underlying processes and allow us to infer the short-term effective population size of the viral population in a patient. Our first observation is that the evolution of drug resistance usually occurs by the fixation of one drug-resistance mutation at a time, as opposed to several changes simultaneously. Second, we find that these fixation events are accompanied by a reduction in genetic diversity in the region surrounding the fixed drug-resistance mutation, due to the hitchhiking effect. Third, we observe that the fixation of drug-resistance mutations involves both hard and soft selective sweeps. In a hard sweep, a resistance mutation arises in a single viral particle and drives all linked mutations with it when it spreads in the viral population, which dramatically reduces genetic diversity. On the other hand, in a soft sweep, a resistance mutation occurs multiple times on different genetic backgrounds, and the reduction of diversity is weak. Using the frequency of occurrence of hard and soft sweeps we estimate the effective population size of HIV to be [Formula: see text] ([Formula: see text] confidence interval [Formula: see text]). This number is much lower than the actual number of infected cells, but much larger than previous population size estimates based on synonymous diversity. We propose several explanations for the observed discrepancies. Finally, our fourth observation is that genetic diversity at non-synonymous sites recovers to its pre-fixation value within 18 months, whereas diversity at synonymous sites remains depressed after this time period. These results improve our understanding of HIV evolution and have potential implications for treatment strategies.

Concepts: DNA, Genetics, Mutation, Natural selection, Evolution, Observation, Population genetics, Genetic drift


Heteropatric differentiation is a mode of speciation with gene flow in which divergence occurs between lineages that are in sympatry and allopatry at different times during cyclic spatial movements. Empirical evidence suggests that heteropatric differentiation may prove to be common among seasonally migratory organisms. We examined genetic differentiation between the sedentary Aleutian Islands population of green-winged teal (Anas crecca-nimia) and its close migratory relative, the Eurasian, or Old World (OW), Anas c. crecca population, a portion of which passes through the range of nimia during its seasonal migrations. We also examined its relationship with the parapatric North American, New World (NW), A. c. carolinensis population. Sequence data from eight nuclear introns and the mtDNA control region showed that the nimia-crecca divergence occurred much more recently than the deeper crecca-carolinensis split (~83 000 years vs. ~1.1 Myr). Despite considerable spatial overlap between crecca and nimia during seasonal migration, three key predictions of heteropatric differentiation are supported: significant genetic divergence (overall mean Φst  = 0.07), low gene flow (2Ne m ~ 1.8), and an effective population size in nimia that is not especially low (Ne  ~ 80 000 individuals). Similar levels of gene flow have come into nimia from carolinensis, but no detectable nuclear gene flow has gone out of nimia into either OW (crecca) or NW (carolinensis) populations. We infer that adaptations of these populations to local optima in different places (e.g. each matching their reproductive effort to different resource blooms) promote genetic isolation and divergence despite periods of sympatry between them, as the heteropatric model predicts.

Concepts: Population ecology, Population genetics, Speciation, Genetic drift, Anas, Allopatric speciation, Common Teal, Green-winged Teal