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Concept: Population genetics


The evolutionary reasons for variation in nose shape across human populations have been subject to continuing debate. An import function of the nose and nasal cavity is to condition inspired air before it reaches the lower respiratory tract. For this reason, it is thought the observed differences in nose shape among populations are not simply the result of genetic drift, but may be adaptations to climate. To address the question of whether local adaptation to climate is responsible for nose shape divergence across populations, we use Qst-Fst comparisons to show that nares width and alar base width are more differentiated across populations than expected under genetic drift alone. To test whether this differentiation is due to climate adaptation, we compared the spatial distribution of these variables with the global distribution of temperature, absolute humidity, and relative humidity. We find that width of the nares is correlated with temperature and absolute humidity, but not with relative humidity. We conclude that some aspects of nose shape may indeed have been driven by local adaptation to climate. However, we think that this is a simplified explanation of a very complex evolutionary history, which possibly also involved other non-neutral forces such as sexual selection.

Concepts: Natural selection, Precipitation, Respiratory system, Humidity, Relative humidity, Population genetics, Nose, Charles Darwin


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


Comparisons of DNA sequences between Neandertals and present-day humans have shown that Neandertals share more genetic variants with non-Africans than with Africans. This could be due to interbreeding between Neandertals and modern humans when the two groups met subsequent to the emergence of modern humans outside Africa. However, it could also be due to population structure that antedates the origin of Neandertal ancestors in Africa. We measure the extent of linkage disequilibrium (LD) in the genomes of present-day Europeans and find that the last gene flow from Neandertals (or their relatives) into Europeans likely occurred 37,000-86,000 years before the present (BP), and most likely 47,000-65,000 years ago. This supports the recent interbreeding hypothesis and suggests that interbreeding may have occurred when modern humans carrying Upper Paleolithic technologies encountered Neandertals as they expanded out of Africa.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Human, Africa, Population genetics, Neanderthal, Pleistocene, Prehistory


Among terrestrial arthropods, the dragonfly species Pantala flavescens is remarkable due to their nearly global distribution and extensive migratory ranges; the largest of any known insect. Capable of migrating across oceans, the potential for high rates of gene flow among geographically distant populations is significant. It has been hypothesized that P. flavescens may be a global panmictic population but no sufficient genetic evidence has been collected thus far. Through a population genetic analysis of P. flavescens samples from North America, South America, and Asia, the current study aimed to examine the extent at which gene flow is occurring on a global scale and discusses the implications of the genetic patterns we uncovered on population structure and genetic diversity of the species. This was accomplished using PCR-amplified cytochrome oxidase one (CO1) mitochondrial DNA data to reconstruct phylogenetic trees, a haplotype network, and perform molecular variance analyses. Our results suggested high rates of gene flow are occurring among all included geographic regions; providing the first significant evidence that Pantala flavescens should be considered a global panmictic population.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Evolution, Biology, Mitochondrion, Horizontal gene transfer, Population genetics


BACKGROUND: The only known albino gorilla, named Snowflake, was a male wild born individual from Equatorial Guinea who lived at the Barcelona Zoo for almost 40 years. He was diagnosed with non-syndromic oculocutaneous albinism, i.e. white hair, light eyes, pink skin, photophobia and reduced visual acuity. Despite previous efforts to explain the genetic cause, this is still unknown. Here, we study the genetic cause of his albinism and making use of whole genome sequencing data we find a higher inbreeding coefficient compared to other gorillas. RESULTS: We successfully identified the causal genetic variant for Snowflake’s albinism, a non-synonymous single nucleotide variant located in a transmembrane region of SLC45A2. This transporter is known to be involved in oculocutaneous albinism type 4 (OCA4) in humans. We provide experimental evidence that shows that this amino acid replacement alters the membrane spanning capability of this transmembrane region. Finally, we provide a comprehensive study of genome-wide patterns of autozygogosity revealing that Snowflake’s parents were related, being this the first report of inbreeding in a wild born Western lowland gorilla. CONCLUSIONS: In this study we demonstrate how the use of whole genome sequencing can be extended to link genotype and phenotype in non-model organisms and it can be a powerful tool in conservation genetics (e.g., inbreeding and genetic diversity) with the expected decrease in sequencing cost.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Genotype, Evolution, Population genetics, Oculocutaneous albinism, Western Lowland Gorilla


The evolution of sterile worker castes in eusocial insects was a major problem in evolutionary theory until Hamilton developed a method called inclusive fitness. He used it to show that sterile castes could evolve via kin selection, in which a gene for altruistic sterility is favored when the altruism sufficiently benefits relatives carrying the gene. Inclusive fitness theory is well supported empirically and has been applied to many other areas, but a recent paper argued that the general method of inclusive fitness was wrong and advocated an alternative population genetic method. The claim of these authors was bolstered by a new model of the evolution of eusociality with novel conclusions that appeared to overturn some major results from inclusive fitness. Here we report an expanded examination of this kind of model for the evolution of eusociality and show that all three of its apparently novel conclusions are essentially false. Contrary to their claims, genetic relatedness is important and causal, workers are agents that can evolve to be in conflict with the queen, and eusociality is not so difficult to evolve. The misleading conclusions all resulted not from incorrect math but from overgeneralizing from narrow assumptions or parameter values. For example, all of their models implicitly assumed high relatedness, but modifying the model to allow lower relatedness shows that relatedness is essential and causal in the evolution of eusociality. Their modeling strategy, properly applied, actually confirms major insights of inclusive fitness studies of kin selection. This broad agreement of different models shows that social evolution theory, rather than being in turmoil, is supported by multiple theoretical approaches. It also suggests that extensive prior work using inclusive fitness, from microbial interactions to human evolution, should be considered robust unless shown otherwise.

Concepts: Natural selection, Evolution, Evolutionary biology, Population genetics, Kin selection, The Selfish Gene, Altruism, Inclusive fitness


Recent experimental results with humans involved in social dilemma games suggest that cooperation may be a contagious phenomenon and that the selection pressure operating on evolutionary dynamics (i.e., mimicry) is relatively weak. I propose an evolutionary dynamics model that links these experimental findings and evolution of cooperation. By assuming a small fraction of (imperfect) zealous cooperators, I show that a large fraction of cooperation emerges in evolutionary dynamics of social dilemma games. Even if defection is more lucrative than cooperation for most individuals, they often mimic cooperation of fellows unless the selection pressure is very strong. Then, zealous cooperators can transform the population to be even fully cooperative under standard evolutionary dynamics.

Concepts: Natural selection, Biology, Insect, Evolutionary biology, Population genetics, Artificial selection


Understanding why some species have more genetic diversity than others is central to the study of ecology and evolution, and carries potentially important implications for conservation biology. Yet not only does this question remain unresolved, it has largely fallen into disregard. With the rapid decrease in sequencing costs, we argue that it is time to revive it.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Conservation biology, Evolution, Biology, Species, Ecology, Population genetics, Charles Darwin


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


An equine SNP genotyping array was developed and evaluated on a panel of samples representing 14 domestic horse breeds and 18 evolutionarily related species. More than 54,000 polymorphic SNPs provided an average inter-SNP spacing of ∼43 kb. The mean minor allele frequency across domestic horse breeds was 0.23, and the number of polymorphic SNPs within breeds ranged from 43,287 to 52,085. Genome-wide linkage disequilibrium (LD) in most breeds declined rapidly over the first 50-100 kb and reached background levels within 1-2 Mb. The extent of LD and the level of inbreeding were highest in the Thoroughbred and lowest in the Mongolian and Quarter Horse. Multidimensional scaling (MDS) analyses demonstrated the tight grouping of individuals within most breeds, close proximity of related breeds, and less tight grouping in admixed breeds. The close relationship between the Przewalski’s Horse and the domestic horse was demonstrated by pair-wise genetic distance and MDS. Genotyping of other Perissodactyla (zebras, asses, tapirs, and rhinoceros) was variably successful, with call rates and the number of polymorphic loci varying across taxa. Parsimony analysis placed the modern horse as sister taxa to Equus przewalski. The utility of the SNP array in genome-wide association was confirmed by mapping the known recessive chestnut coat color locus (MC1R) and defining a conserved haplotype of ∼750 kb across all breeds. These results demonstrate the high quality of this SNP genotyping resource, its usefulness in diverse genome analyses of the horse, and potential use in related species.

Concepts: Genetics, Horse, Population genetics, Rhinoceros, Odd-toed ungulate, Equus, Przewalski's Horse, Tarpan