Chromosome Y microsatellites: population genetic and evolutionary aspects

Int J Legal Med. 1997;110(3):134-49. doi: 10.1007/s004140050052.


By means of a multicenter study, a large number of males have been characterized for Y-chromosome specific short tandem repeats (STRs) or microsatellites. A complete summary of the allele frequency distributions for these Y-STRs is presented in the Appendix. This manuscript describes in more detail some of the population genetic and evolutionary aspects for a restricted set of seven chromosome Y STRs in a selected number of population samples. For all the chromosome Y STRs markedly different region-specific allele frequency distributions were observed, also when closely related populations were compared. Haplotype analyses using AMOVA showed that when four different European male groups (Germans, Dutch, Swiss, Italians) were compared, less than 10% of the total genetic variability was due to differences between these populations. Nevertheless, these pairwise comparisons revealed significant differences between most population pairs. Assuming a step-wise mutation model and a mutation frequency of 0.21%, it was estimated that chromosome Y STR-based evolutionary lines of descent can be reliably inferred over a time-span of only 1950 generations (or about 49,000 years). This reduces the reliability of the inference of population affinities to a historical, rather than evolutionary time scale. This is best illustrated by the construction of a human evolutionary tree based on chromosome Y STRs in which most of the branches connect in a markedly different way compared with trees based on classical protein polymorphisms and/or mtDNA sequence variation. Thus, the chromosome Y STRs seem to be very useful in comparing closely related populations which cannot probably be separated by e.g. autosomal STRs. However, in order to be used in an evolutionary context they need to be combined with more stable Y-polymorphisms e.g. base-substitutions.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Biological Evolution*
  • Ethnicity / genetics
  • Gene Frequency / genetics
  • Genetics, Population*
  • Haplotypes
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Microsatellite Repeats / genetics*
  • Models, Genetic
  • Phylogeny
  • Repetitive Sequences, Nucleic Acid / genetics
  • Y Chromosome*