Evidence of widespread selection on standing variation in Europe at height-associated SNPs

Nat Genet. 2012 Sep;44(9):1015-9. doi: 10.1038/ng.2368. Epub 2012 Aug 19.


Strong signatures of positive selection at newly arising genetic variants are well documented in humans(1-8), but this form of selection may not be widespread in recent human evolution(9). Because many human traits are highly polygenic and partly determined by common, ancient genetic variation, an alternative model for rapid genetic adaptation has been proposed: weak selection acting on many pre-existing (standing) genetic variants, or polygenic adaptation(10-12). By studying height, a classic polygenic trait, we demonstrate the first human signature of widespread selection on standing variation. We show that frequencies of alleles associated with increased height, both at known loci and genome wide, are systematically elevated in Northern Europeans compared with Southern Europeans (P < 4.3 × 10(-4)). This pattern mirrors intra-European height differences and is not confounded by ancestry or other ascertainment biases. The systematic frequency differences are consistent with the presence of widespread weak selection (selection coefficients ∼10(-3)-10(-5) per allele) rather than genetic drift alone (P < 10(-15)).

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Body Height / ethnology
  • Body Height / genetics*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Europe / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Gene Frequency
  • Genetic Variation / physiology*
  • Genetics, Population
  • Genome-Wide Association Study
  • Humans
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Male
  • Multifactorial Inheritance / genetics
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide* / physiology
  • Selection, Genetic / physiology*
  • White People / genetics*
  • White People / statistics & numerical data