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Genetics. 2011 Sep;189(1):251-66. doi: 10.1534/genetics.111.130575. Epub 2011 Jul 29.

The joint effects of background selection and genetic recombination on local gene genealogies.

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Institute of Evolutionary Biology, School of Biological Sciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH9 3JT, United Kingdom.


Background selection, the effects of the continual removal of deleterious mutations by natural selection on variability at linked sites, is potentially a major determinant of DNA sequence variability. However, the joint effects of background selection and genetic recombination on the shape of the neutral gene genealogy have proved hard to study analytically. The only existing formula concerns the mean coalescent time for a pair of alleles, making it difficult to assess the importance of background selection from genome-wide data on sequence polymorphism. Here we develop a structured coalescent model of background selection with recombination and implement it in a computer program that efficiently generates neutral gene genealogies for an arbitrary sample size. We check the validity of the structured coalescent model against forward-in-time simulations and show that it accurately captures the effects of background selection. The model produces more accurate predictions of the mean coalescent time than the existing formula and supports the conclusion that the effect of background selection is greater in the interior of a deleterious region than at its boundaries. The level of linkage disequilibrium between sites is elevated by background selection, to an extent that is well summarized by a change in effective population size. The structured coalescent model is readily extendable to more realistic situations and should prove useful for analyzing genome-wide polymorphism data.

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