Papers in the Biological Sciences


Date of this Version

June 2004


Published in Molecular Biology and Evolution 21:9 (2004), pp. 1800–1811; doi 10.1093/molbev/msh192 Copyright © 2004 by the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution; published by Oxford University Press. Used by permission. Associate editor for MBE: Diethard Tautz.


The last 50,000–150,000 years of human history have been characterized by rapid demographic expansions and the colonization of novel environments outside of sub-Saharan Africa. Mass migrations outside the ancestral species range likely entailed many new selection pressures, suggesting that genetic adaptation to local environmental conditions may have been more prevalent in colonizing populations outside of sub-Saharan Africa. Here we report a test of this hypothesis using genome-wide patterns of DNA polymorphism. We conducted a multilocus scan of microsatellite variability to identify regions of the human genome that may have been subject to continent-specific hitchhiking events. Using published polymorphism data for a total of 624 autosomal loci in multiple populations of humans, we used coalescent simulations to identify candidate loci for geographically restricted selective sweeps. We identified a total of 13 loci that appeared as outliers in replicated population comparisons involving different reference samples for Africa. A disproportionate number of these loci exhibited reduced levels of relative variability in non-African populations alone, suggesting that recent episodes of positive selection have been more prevalent outside of sub-Saharan Africa.