Published on Fri Jul 02 2021

Broad-scale variation in human genetic diversity levels is predicted by purifying selection on coding and non-coding elements

Murphy, D., Elyashiv, E., Amster, G., Sella, G.

Analyses of genetic variation in many taxa have established that neutral genetic diversity is shaped by natural selection at linked sites. Whether the source of selection is primarily the fixation of strongly beneficial alleles (selective sweeps) or purifying selection on deleterious mutations (background selection) remains unknown.

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Abstract

Analyses of genetic variation in many taxa have established that neutral genetic diversity is shaped by natural selection at linked sites. Whether the source of selection is primarily the fixation of strongly beneficial alleles (selective sweeps) or purifying selection on deleterious mutations (background selection) remains unknown, however. We address this question in humans by fitting a model of the joint effects of selective sweeps and background selection to autosomal polymorphism data from the 1000 Genomes Project. After controlling for variation in mutation rates along the genome, a model of background selection alone explains ~60% of the variance in diversity levels at the megabase scale. Adding the effects of selective sweeps driven by adaptive substitutions to the model does not improve the fit, and when both modes of selection are considered jointly, selective sweeps are estimated to have had little or no effect on linked neutral diversity. The regions under purifying selection are best predicted by phylogenetic conservation, with ~80% of the deleterious mutations affecting neutral diversity occurring in non-exonic regions. Thus, background selection is the dominant mode of linked selection in humans, with marked effects on diversity levels throughout autosomes.