Open Access Open Badges Research article

Evidence of recent natural selection on the Southeast Asian deletion (--SEA) causing α-thalassemia in South China

Qin-Wei Qiu1, Dong-Dong Wu2, Li-Hua Yu1, Ti-Zhen Yan3, Wen Zhang45, Zhe-Tao Li1, Yan-Hui Liu1, Ya-Ping Zhang2 and Xiang-Min Xu1*

Author affiliations

1 Department of Medical Genetics, School of Basic Medical Sciences, Southern Medical University, Guangzhou, Guangdong, P.R. China

2 State Key Laboratory of Genetic Resources and Evolution, Kunming Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Kunming, P.R. China

3 Clinical Laboratory, Liuzhou Municipal Maternity and Child Healthcare Hospital, Liuzhou, Guangxi, 545001, P.R. China

4 Key Laboratory of Animal Models and Human Disease Mechanisms of the Chinese Academy of Sciences & Yunnan Province, Kunming Institute of Zoology, Kunming, Yunnan, 650223, China

5 Graduate School of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, 100039, China

For all author emails, please log on.

Citation and License

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2013, 13:63  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-13-63

Published: 11 March 2013



The Southeast Asian deletion (--SEA) is the most commonly observed mutation among diverse α-thalassemia alleles in Southeast Asia and South China. It is generally argued that mutation --SEA, like other variants causing hemoglobin disorders, is associated with protection against malaria that is endemic in these regions. However, little evidence has been provided to support this claim.


We first examined the genetic imprint of recent positive selection on the --SEA allele and flanking sequences in the human α-globin cluster, covering a genomic region spanning ~410 kb, by genotyping 28 SNPs in a Chinese population consisting of 76 --SEA heterozygotes and 138 normal individuals. The pattern of linkage disequilibrium (LD) and the long-range haplotype test revealed a signature of positive selection. The network of inferred haplotypes suggested a single origin of the --SEA allele.


Thus, our data support the hypothesis that the --SEA allele has been subjected to recent balancing selection, triggered by malaria.