Population genetics of VNTR loci and their applications in evolutionary studies

Li Jin, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston


Variable number of tandem repeats (VNTR) are genetic loci at which short sequence motifs are found repeated different numbers of times among chromosomes. To explore the potential utility of VNTR loci in evolutionary studies, I have conducted a series of studies to address the following questions: (1) What are the population genetic properties of these loci? (2) What are the mutational mechanisms of repeat number change at these loci? (3) Can DNA profiles be used to measure the relatedness between a pair of individuals? (4) Can DNA fingerprint be used to measure the relatedness between populations in evolutionary studies? (5) Can microsatellite and short tandem repeat (STR) loci which mutate stepwisely be used in evolutionary analyses? A large number of VNTR loci typed in many populations were studied by means of statistical methods developed recently. The results of this work indicate that there is no significant departure from Hardy-Weinberg expectation (HWE) at VNTR loci in most of the human populations examined, and the departure from HWE in some VNTR loci are not solely caused by the presence of population sub-structure. A statistical procedure is developed to investigate the mutational mechanisms of VNTR loci by studying the allele frequency distributions of these loci. Comparisons of frequency distribution data on several hundreds VNTR loci with the predictions of two mutation models demonstrated that there are differences among VNTR loci grouped by repeat unit sizes. By extending the ITO method, I derived the distribution of the number of shared bands between individuals with any kinship relationship. A maximum likelihood estimation procedure is proposed to estimate the relatedness between individuals from the observed number of shared bands between them. It was believed that classical measures of genetic distance are not applicable to analysis of DNA fingerprints which reveal many minisatellite loci simultaneously in the genome, because the information regarding underlying alleles and loci is not available. I proposed a new measure of genetic distance based on band sharing between individuals that is applicable to DNA fingerprint data. To address the concern that microsatellite and STR loci may not be useful for evolutionary studies because of the convergent nature of their mutation mechanisms, by a theoretical study as well as by computer simulation, I conclude that the possible bias caused by the convergent mutations can be corrected, and a novel measure of genetic distance that makes the correction is suggested. In summary, I conclude that hypervariable VNTR loci are useful in evolutionary studies of closely related populations or species, especially in the study of human evolution and the history of geographic dispersal of Homo sapiens. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)

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Recommended Citation

Jin, Li, "Population genetics of VNTR loci and their applications in evolutionary studies" (1994). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI9424433.