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Am J Hum Genet. 1997 Feb;60(2):447-58.

Estimating the age of alleles by use of intraallelic variability.

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Department of Integrative Biology, University of California at Berkeley, 94720-3140, USA.


A method is presented for estimating the age of an allele by use of its frequency and the extent of variation among different copies. The method uses the joint distribution of the number of copies in a population sample and the coalescence times of the intraallelic gene genealogy conditioned on the number of copies. The linear birth-death process is used to approximate the dynamics of a rare allele in a finite population. A maximum-likelihood estimate of the age of the allele is obtained by Monte Carlo integration over the coalescence times. The method is applied to two alleles at the cystic fibrosis (CFTR) locus, deltaF508 and G542X, for which intraallelic variability at three intronic microsatellite loci has been examined. Our results indicate that G542X is somewhat older than deltaF508. Although absolute estimates depend on the mutation rates at the microsatellite loci, our results support the hypothesis that deltaF508 arose < 500 generations (approximately 10,000 years) ago.

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