Simple Statistical Tools to Detect Signals of Recent Polygenic Selection

  • Received : 2014.02.07
  • Accepted : 2014.02.24
  • Published : 2014.03.31


A growing body of evidence shows that most psychological traits are polygenic, that is they involve the action of many genes with small effects. However, the study of selection has disproportionately been on one or a few genes and their associated sweep signals (rapid and large changes in frequency). If our goal is to study the evolution of psychological variables, such as intelligence, we need a model that explains the evolution of phenotypes governed by many common genetic variants. This study illustrates simple statistical tools to detect signals of recent polygenic selection: a) ANOVA can be used to reveal significant deviation from random distribution of allele frequencies across racial groups. b) Principal component analysis can be used as a tool for finding a factor that represents the strength of recent selection on a phenotype and the underlying genetic variation. c) Method of correlated vectors: the correlation between genetic frequencies and the average phenotypes of different populations is computed; then, the resulting correlation coefficients are correlated with the corresponding alleles' genome-wide significance. This provides a measure of how selection acted on genes with higher signal to noise ratio. Another related test is that alleles with large frequency differences between populations should have a higher genome-wide significance value than alleles with small frequency differences. This paper fruitfully employs these tools and shows that common genetic variants exhibit subtle frequency shifts and that these shifts predict phenotypic differences across populations.


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