The discovery of single-nucleotide polymorphisms--and inferences about human demographic history

Am J Hum Genet. 2001 Dec;69(6):1332-47. doi: 10.1086/324521. Epub 2001 Nov 6.


A method of historical inference that accounts for ascertainment bias is developed and applied to single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) data in humans. The data consist of 84 short fragments of the genome that were selected, from three recent SNP surveys, to contain at least two polymorphisms in their respective ascertainment samples and that were then fully resequenced in 47 globally distributed individuals. Ascertainment bias is the deviation, from what would be observed in a random sample, caused either by discovery of polymorphisms in small samples or by locus selection based on levels or patterns of polymorphism. The three SNP surveys from which the present data were derived differ both in their protocols for ascertainment and in the size of the samples used for discovery. We implemented a Monte Carlo maximum-likelihood method to fit a subdivided-population model that includes a possible change in effective size at some time in the past. Incorrectly assuming that ascertainment bias does not exist causes errors in inference, affecting both estimates of migration rates and historical changes in size. Migration rates are overestimated when ascertainment bias is ignored. However, the direction of error in inferences about changes in effective population size (whether the population is inferred to be shrinking or growing) depends on whether either the numbers of SNPs per fragment or the SNP-allele frequencies are analyzed. We use the abbreviation "SDL," for "SNP-discovered locus," in recognition of the genomic-discovery context of SNPs. When ascertainment bias is modeled fully, both the number of SNPs per SDL and their allele frequencies support a scenario of growth in effective size in the context of a subdivided population. If subdivision is ignored, however, the hypothesis of constant effective population size cannot be rejected. An important conclusion of this work is that, in demographic or other studies, SNP data are useful only to the extent that their ascertainment can be modeled.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Bias
  • Chromosomes, Human / genetics
  • Emigration and Immigration
  • Gene Frequency / genetics
  • Haplotypes / genetics
  • Humans
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Monte Carlo Method
  • Phylogeny*
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide / genetics*
  • Population Density
  • Sample Size