Human population expansion and microsatellite variation

Lev A. Zhivotovsky, Lynda Bennett, Anne M. Bowcock, Marcus W. Feldman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

76 Scopus citations


Polymorphisms at di-, tri-, and tetranucleotide microsatellite loci have been analyzed in 14 worldwide populations. A statistical index of population expansion, denoted S(k), is introduced to detect historical changes in population size using the variation at the microsatellites. The index takes the value 0 at equilibrium with constant population size and is positive or negative according to whether the population is expanding or contracting, respectively. The use of S(k) requires estimation of properties of the mutation distribution for which we use both family data of Dib et al. for dinucleotide loci and our population data on tri- and tetranucleotide loci. Statistical estimates of the expansion index, as well as their confidence intervals from bootstrap resampling, are provided. In addition, a dynamical analysis of S(k) is presented under various assumptions on population growth or decline. The studied populations are classified as having high, intermediate, or low values of S(k) and genetic variation, and we use these to interpret the data in terms of possible population dynamics. Observed values of S(k) for samples of di-, tri-, and tetranucleotide data are compatible with population expansion earlier than 60,000 years ago in Africa, Asia, and Europe if the initial population size before the expansion was on the order of 500. Larger initial population sizes force the lower bound for the time since expansion to be much earlier. We find it unlikely that bottlenecks occurred in Central African, East Asian, or European populations, and the estimated expansion times are rather similar for all of these populations. This analysis presented here suggests that modem human populations departed from Africa long before they began to expand in size. Subsequently, the major groups (the African, East Asian, and European groups) started to grow at approximately same time. Populations of South America and Oceania show almost no growth. The Mbuti population from Zaire appears to have experienced a bottleneck during its expansion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)757-767
Number of pages11
JournalMolecular biology and evolution
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2000
Externally publishedYes


  • Bottleneck
  • Effective size
  • Expansion index
  • Human population growth
  • Microsatellites
  • Stepwise mutation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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