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Low Nucleotide Diversity in Man

  • W. H. Li
  • L. A. Sadler
Publication Date
Oct 01, 1991
  • Archaeology
  • Biology


The nucleotide diversity (π) in humans is studied by using published cDNA and genomic sequences that have been carefully checked for sequencing accuracy. This measure of genetic variability is defined as the number of nucleotide differences per site between two randomly chosen sequences from a population. A total of more than 75,000 base pairs from 49 loci are compared. The DNA regions studied are the 5' and 3' untranslated regions and the amino acid coding regions. The coding regions are divided into nondegenerate sites (i.e., sites at which all possible changes are nonsynonymous), twofold degenerate sites (i.e., sites at each of which one of the three possible changes is synonymous) and fourfold degenerate sites (i.e., sites at which all three possible changes are synonymous). The π values estimated are, respectively, 0.03 and 0.04% for the 5' and 3' UT regions, and 0.03, 0.06 and 0.11% for nondegenerate, twofold degenerate and fourfold degenerate sites. Since the highest π value is only 0.11%, which is about one order of magnitude lower than those in Drosophila populations, the nucleotide diversity in humans is very low. The low diversity is probably due to a relatively small long-term effective population size rather than any severe bottleneck during human evolution.

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