Non-equilibrium theory of the allele frequency spectrum

April, 2006
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Steven N. Evans, Yelena Shvets, Montgomery Slatkin

A forward diffusion equation describing the evolution of the allele frequency spectrum is presented. The influx of mutations is accounted for by imposing a suitable boundary condition. For a Wright-Fisher diffusion with or without selection and varying population size, the boundary condition is $\lim_{x \downarrow 0} x f(x,t)=\theta \rho(t)$, where $f(\cdot,t)$ is the frequency spectrum of derived alleles at independent loci at time $t$ and $\rho(t)$ is the relative population size at time $t$. When population size and selection intensity are independent of time, the forward equation is equivalent to the backwards diffusion usually used to derive the frequency spectrum, but the forward equation allows computation of the time dependence of the spectrum both before an equilibrium is attained and when population size and selection intensity vary with time. From the diffusion equation, we derive a set of ordinary differential equations for the moments of $f(\cdot,t)$ and express the expected spectrum of a finite sample in terms of those moments. We illustrate the use of the forward equation by considering neutral and selected alleles in a highly simplified model of human history. For example, we show that approximately 30\% of the expected heterozygosity of neutral loci is attributable to mutations that arose since the onset of population growth in roughly the last $150,000$ years.

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