Tracking human population structure through time from whole genome sequences

PLoS Genetics
(Accessed 14 Mar 2020)

Research Article
Tracking human population structure through time from whole genome sequences
Ke Wang, Iain Mathieson, Jared O’Connell, Stephan Schiffels
| published 09 Mar 2020 PLOS Genetics
The genetic diversity of humans, like many species, has been shaped by a complex pattern of population separations followed by isolation and subsequent admixture. This pattern, reaching at least as far back as the appearance of our species in the paleontological record, has left its traces in our genomes. Reconstructing a population’s history from these traces is a challenging problem. Here we present a novel approach based on the Multiple Sequentially Markovian Coalescent (MSMC) to analyze the separation history between populations. Our approach, called MSMC-IM, uses an improved implementation of the MSMC (MSMC2) to estimate coalescence rates within and across pairs of populations, and then fits a continuous Isolation-Migration model to these rates to obtain a time-dependent estimate of gene flow. We show, using simulations, that our method can identify complex demographic scenarios involving post-split admixture or archaic introgression. We apply MSMC-IM to whole genome sequences from 15 worldwide populations, tracking the process of human genetic diversification. We detect traces of extremely deep ancestry between some African populations, with around 1% of ancestry dating to divergences older than a million years ago.
Author summary
Human demographic history is reflected in specific patterns of shared mutations between the genomes from different populations. Here we aim to unravel this pattern to infer population structure through time with a new approach, called MSMC-IM. Based on estimates of coalescence rates within and across populations, MSMC-IM fits a time-dependent migration model to the pairwise rate of coalescences. We implemented this approach as an extension to existing software (MSMC2), and tested it with simulations exhibiting different histories of admixture and gene flow. We then applied it to the genomes from 15 worldwide populations to reveal their pairwise separation history ranging from a few thousand up to several million years ago. Among other results, we find evidence for remarkably deep population structure in some African population pairs, suggesting that deep ancestry dating to one million years ago and older is still present in human populations in small amounts today.