Diversity of Lactase Persistence Alleles in Ethiopia: Signature of a Soft Selective Sweep

Research Department of Genetics Evolution and Environment, University College London, Darwin Building, London WC1E 6BT, UK.
The American Journal of Human Genetics (Impact Factor: 10.93). 08/2013; 93(3). DOI: 10.1016/j.ajhg.2013.07.008
Source: PubMed


The persistent expression of lactase into adulthood in humans is a recent genetic adaptation that allows the consumption of milk from other mammals after weaning. In Europe, a single allele (-13910(∗)T, rs4988235) in an upstream region that acts as an enhancer to the expression of the lactase gene LCT is responsible for lactase persistence and appears to have been under strong directional selection in the last 5,000 years, evidenced by the widespread occurrence of this allele on an extended haplotype. In Africa and the Middle East, the situation is more complicated and at least three other alleles (-13907(∗)G, rs41525747; -13915(∗)G, rs41380347; -14010(∗)C, rs145946881) in the same LCT enhancer region can cause continued lactase expression. Here we examine the LCT enhancer sequence in a large lactose-tolerance-tested Ethiopian cohort of more than 350 individuals. We show that a further SNP, -14009T>G (ss 820486563), is significantly associated with lactose-digester status, and in vitro functional tests confirm that the -14009(∗)G allele also increases expression of an LCT promoter construct. The derived alleles in the LCT enhancer region are spread through several ethnic groups, and we report a greater genetic diversity in lactose digesters than in nondigesters. By examining flanking markers to control for the effects of mutation and demography, we further describe, from empirical evidence, the signature of a soft selective sweep.


Available from: Anke Liebert, Jul 18, 2015
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    • "The variable region nearer to the LCT gene (−13732 to −13806) is less different between milk drinkers and non-milk drinkers. Of the variants detected, −13806*G was only found in Ethiopian milk drinkers but was shown in our recent study to be less frequent in digesters than non-digesters (Jones et al. 2013). The variant −13800*T was on the other hand more widespread and is more frequent in milk drinkers, but there was only one person (a non-digester) carrying −13800*T in our previous study on phenotyped individuals. "
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    ABSTRACT: The genetic trait of lactase persistence is attributable to allelic variants in an enhancer region upstream of the lactase gene, LCT. To date, five different functional alleles, -13910*T, -13907*G, -13915*G, -14009*G and -14010*C, have been identified. The co-occurrence of several of these alleles in Ethiopian lactose digesters leads to a pattern of sequence diversity characteristic of a 'soft selective sweep'. Here we hypothesise that throughout Africa, where multiple functional alleles co-exist, the enhancer diversity will be greater in groups who are traditional milk drinkers than in non-milk drinkers, as the result of this sort of parallel selection. Samples from 23 distinct groups from 10 different countries were examined. Each group was classified 'Yes 'or 'No' for milk-drinking, and ethnicity, language spoken and geographic location were recorded. Predicted lactase persistence frequency and enhancer diversity were, as hypothesised, higher in the milk drinkers than the non-milk-drinkers, but this was almost entirely accounted for by the Afro-Asiatic language speaking peoples of east Africa. The other groups, including the 'Nilo-Saharan language speaking' milk-drinkers, show lower frequencies of LP and lower diversity, and there was a north-east to south-west decline in overall diversity. Amongst the Afro-Asiatic (Cushitic) language speaking Oromo, however, the geographic cline was not evident and the southern pastoralist Borana showed much higher LP frequency and enhancer diversity than the other groups. Together these results reflect the effects of parallel selection, the stochastic processes of the occurrence and spread of the mutations, and time depth of milk drinking tradition.
    Human Genetics 06/2015; 134(8). DOI:10.1007/s00439-015-1573-2 · 4.82 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The genomic region containing the lactase (LCT) gene shows one of the strongest signals of positive selection in Europeans, detectable using a range of approaches including haplotype length, linked microsatellite variation and population-differentiation-based tests. Lactase is the enzyme that carries out the digestion of the milk sugar lactose. Its expression decreases at some point after the weaning period is over in most mammals and in around 68% of all living adult humans. However, in some humans, particularly those from populations with a history of dairying, lactase is expressed throughout adulthood. This trait is called lactase persistence (LP), and in people of European ancestry, it is associated with a single mutation (-13910*T). Evidence from the detection of dairy fat residues in potsherds, and allele frequencies in ancient DNA samples suggest that LP arose after dairying practices had developed. However, the reasons why LP may have been advantageous are still debated, and the respective contribution of demography and natural selection remains to be disentangled. This paper discusses various studies, from archaeology to population genetics, that have shed some light on the subject by investigating the evolution of LP in Europe. © 2014 S. Karger AG, Basel.
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