Ongoing GC-biased evolution is widespread in the human genome and enriched near recombination hot spots

Genome Biol Evol. 2011;3:614-26. doi: 10.1093/gbe/evr058. Epub 2011 Jun 21.


Fast evolving regions of many metazoan genomes show a bias toward substitutions that change weak (A,T) into strong (G,C) base pairs. Single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) do not share this pattern, suggesting that it results from biased fixation rather than biased mutation. Supporting this hypothesis, analyses of polymorphism in specific regions of the human genome have identified a positive correlation between weak to strong (W→S) SNPs and derived allele frequency (DAF), suggesting that SNPs become increasingly GC biased over time, especially in regions of high recombination. Using polymorphism data generated by the 1000 Genomes Project from 179 individuals from 4 human populations, we evaluated the extent and distribution of ongoing GC-biased evolution in the human genome. We quantified GC fixation bias by comparing the DAFs of W→S mutations and S→W mutations using a Mann-Whitney U test. Genome-wide, W→S SNPs have significantly higher DAFs than S→W SNPs. This pattern is widespread across the human genome but varies in magnitude along the chromosomes. We found extreme GC-biased evolution in neighborhoods of recombination hot spots, a significant correlation between GC bias and recombination rate, and an inverse correlation between GC bias and chromosome arm length. These findings demonstrate the presence of ongoing fixation bias favoring G and C alleles throughout the human genome and suggest that the bias is caused by a recombination-associated process, such as GC-biased gene conversion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Base Composition / genetics*
  • Chromosomes, Human / genetics
  • Computational Biology
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Gene Frequency
  • Genome, Human / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide
  • Recombination, Genetic*
  • Statistics as Topic