Population amalgamation and genetic variation: observations on artificially agglomerated tribal populations of Central and South America.

Publication Date



Am J Hum Genet. 1988 November; 43(5): 709–725.


The interpretation of data on genetic variation with regard to the relative roles of different evolutionary factors that produce and maintain genetic variation depends critically on our assumptions concerning effective population size and the level of migration between neighboring populations. In humans, recent population growth and movements of specific ethnic groups across wide geographic areas mean that any theory based on assumptions of constant population size and absence of substructure is generally untenable. We examine the effects of population subdivision on the pattern of protein genetic variation in a total sample drawn from an artificial agglomerate of 12 tribal populations of Central and South America, analyzing the pooled sample as though it were a single population. Several striking findings emerge. (1) Mean heterozygosity is not sensitive to agglomeration, but the number of different alleles (allele count) is inflated, relative to neutral mutation/drift/equilibrium expectation. (2) The inflation is most serious for rare alleles, especially those which originally occurred as tribally restricted "private" polymorphisms. (3) The degree of inflation is an increasing function of both the number of populations encompassed by the sample and of the genetic divergence among them. (4) Treating an agglomerated population as though it were a panmictic unit of long standing can lead to serious biases in estimates of mutation rates, selection pressures, and effective population sizes. Current DNA studies indicate the presence of numerous genetic variants in human populations. The findings and conclusions of this paper are all fully applicable to the study of genetic variation at the DNA level as well.


Alleles, Gene Frequency, Genetic Markers, Genetic Variation, Genetics, Population, Heterozygote, Humans, Indians, Central American, Indians, South American, Polymorphism, Genetic