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High-throughput inference of pairwise coalescence times identifies signals of selection and enriched disease heritability

Nature Geneticsvolume 50pages13111317 (2018) | Download Citation


Interest in reconstructing demographic histories has motivated the development of methods to estimate locus-specific pairwise coalescence times from whole-genome sequencing data. Here we introduce a powerful new method, ASMC, that can estimate coalescence times using only SNP array data, and is orders of magnitude faster than previous approaches. We applied ASMC to detect recent positive selection in 113,851 phased British samples from the UK Biobank, and detected 12 genome-wide significant signals, including 6 novel loci. We also applied ASMC to sequencing data from 498 Dutch individuals to detect background selection at deeper time scales. We detected strong heritability enrichment in regions of high background selection in an analysis of 20 independent diseases and complex traits using stratified linkage disequilibrium score regression, conditioned on a broad set of functional annotations (including other background selection annotations). These results underscore the widespread effects of background selection on the genetic architecture of complex traits.

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We thank P.-R. Loh for suggesting several coding improvements for the ASMC software, and for support with the phasing and processing of the UK Biobank data; S. Gazal for support with the S-LDSC analysis and the baselineLD model; I. Shlyakhter for support with the COSI2 simulator; Y. Field for support with the simulation setup in the analysis of recent positive selection; D. Reich for providing computational resources; H. Finucane, Y. Reshef and S. Gusev for helpful discussions. This research was conducted using publicly available datasets (see URLs): the UK Biobank Resource under Application #16549, and the Genome of the Netherlands resource under Application #2017149. We thank the participants of the UK Biobank and the Genome of the Netherlands projects. P.F.P. and A.L.P. were supported by NIH grants R01 MH101244, R01 HG006399 and R01 GM105857; J.T. and Y.S.S. were supported in part by NIH grant R01 GM094402 and a Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering; Y.S.S. is a Chan Zuckerberg Biohub investigator.

Author information


  1. Department of Statistics, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK

    • Pier Francesco Palamara
  2. Department of Epidemiology, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA

    • Pier Francesco Palamara
    •  & Alkes L. Price
  3. Department of Biostatistics, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA

    • Pier Francesco Palamara
    •  & Alkes L. Price
  4. Program in Medical and Population Genetics, Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Cambridge, MA, USA

    • Pier Francesco Palamara
    •  & Alkes L. Price
  5. Department of Statistics, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA

    • Jonathan Terhorst
  6. Department of Statistics, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, USA

    • Yun S. Song
  7. Computer Science Division, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, USA

    • Yun S. Song
  8. Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, San Francisco, CA, USA

    • Yun S. Song


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P.F.P. and A.L.P. conceived the study and analyzed results. P.F.P. developed the ASMC algorithm, performed simulations and data analysis. J.T. and Y.S.S. developed the CSFS model used in the SMC++ and ASMC algorithms. P.F.P. and A.L.P. wrote the manuscript with comments from J.T. and Y.S.S.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Pier Francesco Palamara or Alkes L. Price.

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