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Open Access Research article

A genome-wide screen for noncoding elements important in primate evolution

Eliot C Bush12* and Bruce T Lahn1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Human Genetics and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA

2 Department of Biology, Harvey Mudd College, Claremont, California, USA

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2008, 8:17  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-8-17

Published: 23 January 2008



A major goal in the study of human evolution is to identify key genetic changes which occurred over the course of primate evolution. According to one school of thought, many such changes are likely to be found in noncoding sequence. An approach to identifying these involves comparing multiple genomes to identify conserved regions with an accelerated substitution rate in a particular lineage. Such acceleration could be the result of positive selection.


Here we develop a likelihood ratio test method to identify such regions. We apply it not only to the human terminal lineage, as has been done in previous studies, but also to a number of other branches in the primate tree. We present the top scoring elements, and compare our results with previous studies. We also present resequencing data from one particular element accelerated on the human lineage. These data indicate that the element lies in a region of low polymorphism in humans, consistent with the possibility of a recent selective sweep. They also show that the AT to GC bias for polymorphism in this region differs dramatically from that for substitutions.


Our results suggest that screens of this type will be helpful in unraveling the complex set of changes which occurred during primate evolution.