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Panmixia postponed: ancestry-related assortative mating in contemporary human populations

DOI: 10.1186/gb-2009-10-11-245

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The past 500 years have been characterized by unprecedented episodes of human migration and admixture, particularly in the Americas. Technological innovations have to a certain extent reduced the impact of geography on human behavior, raising the possibility of a truly global population. At a local level, however, geographic, demographic, linguistic, cultural and even legal barriers now, and in the past, limit and circumscribe human mate choices. For example, cultural biases towards patrilocal or matrilocal marriage (where the married couple set up home in the place of origin of the man or woman, respectively) can lead to the differential structuring of male or female genetic variation [1]. Caste systems can similarly lead to the stratification of genetic structure within societies [2]. The patterns of divergence and admixture that characterize human populations are the result of complex cultural and evolutionary processes, but can also negatively influence the outcomes of biomedical studies associating disease susceptibilities and other biomedical traits with particular genes [3].In this context, a paper by Risch et al. [4] in Genome Biology is especially interesting in that they used 'ancestry informative markers' (AIMs) to document the genetic signature of assortative mating in contemporary human populations. These genetic markers document the contribution of particular ancestral groups to an individual's genetic make-up. Surprisingly, in view of the fact that such ancestral contributions may not be physically obvious or even known to the individual or their intended spouse, Risch et al. find that ancestral make-up is positively correlated with spouse choice within both populations studied, but find no correlation with socioeconomic or geographic origins that might explain the correlation. The work raises interesting questions about the cultural factors influencing human population genomic structure as well as the evolutionary and biomedical significance of such


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