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Gene. 2007 Apr 1;390(1-2):146-52. Epub 2006 Aug 22.

Identification of a unique Alu-based polymorphism and its use in human population studies.

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  • 1Department of Biology, Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, MI 48197, United States.


Alu elements represent a family of short interspersed DNA elements (SINEs) found in primate genomes. These are members of a group of transposable elements that integrate into the genome by the process of retrotransposition. Recent integrations of Alu elements within the human genome have generated presence/absence variants useful as DNA markers in human population studies as well as in forensic and paternity analyses. Besides the ease of use, this type of marker is unique because the absence of the Alu represents the ancestral form. We have identified an Alu-based polymorphism that consists of four alleles in which we can predict the evolutionary order. Additionally, we have developed a simple PCR plus restriction endonuclease assay to readily distinguish the four alleles. We have thus far analyzed DNA from a small set of samples comprising ten different ethnic groups. The three populations of African descent exhibited a relatively low frequency of the absence allele in contrast to the other populations, as well as being the only populations in which all four alleles were identified. One presence allele was not found in both European Caucasian and South American populations that were sampled, whereas a different presence allele was not observed among the sampled Asian populations. Additionally, the four-allele system identified variations among populations not observed by simply scoring as presence/absence variants. Therefore, extending beyond the two-allele dimorphic Alu system further elucidates population variations. These features afford this marker as a unique tool in the study of both global and regional analyses of human populations.

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