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Genetic landscapes reveal how human genetic diversity aligns with geography

By Benjamin Marco Peter, Desislava Petkova, John Novembre

Posted 13 Dec 2017
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/233486 (published DOI: 10.1093/molbev/msz280)

Summarizing spatial patterns in human genetic diversity to understand population history has been a persistent goal for human geneticists. Here, we use a recently developed spatially explicit method to estimate "effective migration" surfaces to visualize how human genetic diversity is geographically structured (the EEMS method). The resulting surfaces are "rugged", which indicates the relationship between genetic and geographic distance is heterogenous and distorted as a rule. Most prominently, topographic and marine features regularly align with increased genetic differentiation (e.g. the Sahara desert, Mediterranean Sea or Himalaya at large scales; the Adriatic, inter-island straits in near Oceania at smaller scales). We also see traces of historical migrations and boundaries of language families. These results provide visualizations of human genetic diversity that reveal local patterns of differentiation in detail and emphasize that while genetic similarity generally decays with geographic distance, there have regularly been factors that subtly distort the underlying relationship across space observed today. The fine-scale population structure depicted here is relevant to understanding complex processes of human population history and may provide insights for geographic patterning in rare variants and heritable disease risk.

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