Private microsatellite alleles tend to be found in the tails rather than in the interior of the allele size distribution. To explain this phenomenon, we have investigated the size distribution of private alleles in a coalescent model of two populations, assuming the symmetric stepwise mutation model as the mode of microsatellite mutation. For the case in which four alleles are sampled, two from each population, we condition on the configuration in which three distinct allele sizes are present, one of which is common to both populations, one of which is private to one population, and the third of which is private to the other population. Conditional on this configuration, we calculate the probability that the two private alleles occupy the two tails of the size distribution. This probability, which increases as a function of mutation rate and divergence time between the two populations, is seen to be greater than the value that would be predicted if there was no relationship between privacy and location in the allele size distribution. In accordance with the prediction of the model, we find that in pairs of human populations, the frequency with which private microsatellite alleles occur in the tails of the allele size distribution increases as a function of genetic differentiation between populations.
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