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Genetics. 2013 Nov;195(3):969-78. doi: 10.1534/genetics.113.153973. Epub 2013 Aug 26.

Population growth inflates the per-individual number of deleterious mutations and reduces their mean effect.

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Department of Biological Statistics and Computational Biology, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853.


This study addresses the question of how purifying selection operates during recent rapid population growth such as has been experienced by human populations. This is not a straightforward problem because the human population is not at equilibrium: population genetics predicts that, on the one hand, the efficacy of natural selection increases as population size increases, eliminating ever more weakly deleterious variants; on the other hand, a larger number of deleterious mutations will be introduced into the population and will be more likely to increase in their number of copies as the population grows. To understand how patterns of human genetic variation have been shaped by the interaction of natural selection and population growth, we examined the trajectories of mutations with varying selection coefficients, using computer simulations. We observed that while population growth dramatically increases the number of deleterious segregating sites in the population, it only mildly increases the number carried by each individual. Our simulations also show an increased efficacy of natural selection, reflected in a higher fraction of deleterious mutations eliminated at each generation and a more efficient elimination of the most deleterious ones. As a consequence, while each individual carries a larger number of deleterious alleles than expected in the absence of growth, the average selection coefficient of each segregating allele is less deleterious. Combined, our results suggest that the genetic risk of complex diseases in growing populations might be distributed across a larger number of more weakly deleterious rare variants.


deleterious mutations; demographic history; exponential growth; human; purifying selection

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