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Genetics. Jul 2001; 158(3): 1227–1234.
PMCID: PMC1461725

Positive and negative selection on the human genome.


The distinction between deleterious, neutral, and adaptive mutations is a fundamental problem in the study of molecular evolution. Two significant quantities are the fraction of DNA variation in natural populations that is deleterious and destined to be eliminated and the fraction of fixed differences between species driven by positive Darwinian selection. We estimate these quantities using the large number of human genes for which there are polymorphism and divergence data. The fraction of amino acid mutations that is neutral is estimated to be 0.20 from the ratio of common amino acid (A) to synonymous (S) single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) at frequencies of > or =15%. Among the 80% of amino acid mutations that are deleterious at least 20% of them are only slightly deleterious and often attain frequencies of 1-10%. We estimate that these slightly deleterious mutations comprise at least 3% of amino acid SNPs in the average individual or at least 300 per diploid genome. This estimate is not sensitive to human population history. The A/S ratio of fixed differences is greater than that of common SNPs and suggests that a large fraction of protein divergence is adaptive and driven by positive Darwinian selection.

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Selected References

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