Genetic Future

Nonsense in the human genome

Just a quick pointer to a new paper in American Journal of Human Genetics with my office-mate Bryndis Yngvadottir as lead author, which I see has already received some well-deserved coverage from ScienceDaily and GenomeWeb Daily News. The paper shows that specific types of genetic variants that inactivate genes – called nonsense SNPs – are surprisingly common in the human population.

Here’s the abstract:

Nonsense SNPs introduce premature termination codons into genes and can
result in the absence of a gene product or in a truncated and
potentially harmful protein, so they are often considered
disadvantageous and are associated with disease susceptibility. As
such, we might expect the disrupted allele to be rare and, in healthy
people, observed only in a heterozygous state. However, some, like
those in the CASP12 and ACTN3 genes, are known to be
present at high frequencies and to occur often in a homozygous state
and seem to have been advantageous in recent human evolution. To
evaluate the selective forces acting on nonsense SNPs as a class, we
have carried out a large-scale experimental survey of nonsense SNPs in
the human genome by genotyping 805 of them (plus control synonymous
SNPs) in 1,151 individuals from 56 worldwide populations. We identified
169 genes containing nonsense SNPs that were variable in our samples,
of which 99 were found with both copies inactivated in at least one
individual. We found that the sampled humans differ on average by 24
genes (out of about 20,000) because of these nonsense SNPs alone. As
might be expected, nonsense SNPs as a class were found to be slightly
disadvantageous over evolutionary timescales, but a few nevertheless
showed signs of being possibly advantageous, as indicated by unusually
high levels of population differentiation, long haplotypes, and/or high
frequencies of derived alleles. This study underlines the extent of
variation in gene content within humans and emphasizes the importance
of understanding this type of variation.

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  1. #1 razib
    February 6, 2009

    wow. they let icelanders work in britain???

  2. #2 Daniel MacArthur
    February 6, 2009

    only the clever ones…

  3. #3 Ed Yong
    February 6, 2009

    Only Bjork.

  4. #4 Bob
    February 8, 2009

    This was an interesting article and emphasized something that we, at least I, don’t often consider; it may be adaptive to inactive a gene. I wonder how many human classical pseudogenes became established because it was adaptive.

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