Detecting past male-mediated expansions using the Y chromosome

2017-05-15T10:54:18Z (GMT) by Chiara Batini Mark A. Jobling
Males and females display biological differences that lead to a higher variance of offspring number in males, and this is frequently exacerbated in human societies by mating practices, and possibly by past socio-cultural circumstances. This implies that the genetic record might contain the imprint of past male-mediated expansions, which can be investigated by analysing the male-specific region of the Y chromosome (MSY). Here, we review studies that have used MSY data to infer such expansions. Sets of short-tandem repeats define haplotypes of very low average frequencies, but in a few cases, high-frequency haplotypes are observed, forming the core of descent clusters. Estimates of the ages of such clusters, together with geographical information, have been used to propose powerful historical founders, including Genghis Khan, although without direct supporting evidence. Resequencing of multi-megabase segments of MSY has allowed the construction of detailed phylogenies in which branch lengths are proportional to time, leading to the identification of lineage expansions in the last few millennia as well as the more distant past. Comparisons with maternally-inherited mitochondrial DNA sequence data allow the male specificity of some of these expansions to be demonstrated. These include expansions in Europe in the last ~5000 years that may be associated with a cultural shift during the Bronze Age, as well as expansions elsewhere in the world for which explanations from archaeological evidence are not yet clear.

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