Linked mutations at adjacent nucleotides have shaped human population differentiation and protein evolution
Despite the fundamental importance of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) to human evolution there are still large gaps in our understanding of the forces that shape their distribution across the genome. SNPs have been shown to not be distributed evenly, with directly adjacent SNPs found unusually frequently. Why this is the case is unclear. We illustrate how neighbouring SNPs that can't be explained by a single mutation event (that we term here sequential dinucleotide mutations, SDMs) are driven by distinct mutational processes and selective pressures to SNPs and multinucleotide polymorphisms (MNPs). By studying variation across multiple populations, including a novel cohort of 1,358 Scottish genomes, we show that, SDMs are over twice as common as MNPs and like SNPs, display distinct mutational spectra across populations. These biases are though not only different to those observed among SNPs and MNPs, but also more divergent between human population groups. We show that the changes that make up SDMs are not independent, and identify a distinct mutational profile, CA->CG->TG, that is observed an order of magnitude more often than other SDMs, including others that involve the gain and subsequent deamination of CpG sites. This suggests these specific changes are driven by a distinct process. In coding regions particular SDMs are favoured, and especially those that lead to the creation of single codon amino acids. Intriguingly selection has favoured particular pathways through the amino acid code, with epistatic selection appearing to have disfavoured sequential non-synonymous changes.
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