Friday, March 16, 2012

POTW: Evolutionary constraints and the discovery of disease markers

My selection for Paper of the Week for 16 March 2012 is by Joel Dudley, et al. and published as a letter in Molecular Biology & Evolution. Its title is "Evolutionary meta-analysis of association studies reveals ancient constraints affecting disease marker discovery."

The authors examined over 5800 disease-associating variants, comparing the genomic neighborhood across a panel of species. This covered 230 different disease and disease risk phenotypes. Importantly, the authors demonstrate that there is a propensity to discover such disease SNPs at "conserved genomic positions, because the effect size (odds ratio) and allelic P-value of genetic association of a SNP relates strongly to the evolutionary conservation of their genomic position." This then allowed them to develop a new means to rank such association SNPs in which a conservation score, based on the evolutionary analysis, is incorporated into the P-value of the genotype-phenotype association.

As many GWAS SNPs alter gene expression - either through altered transcription factor binding or microRNA-mRNA interaction, and as such evolutionary mechanisms most likely involve a sensing or monitoring of the environment with concomitant changes in gene expression, this makes sense. In fact, the role of such types of SNPs (those under selective pressure) and their role in heart disease, was a topic on which we published in 2010.

The article by Dudley, et al. is really nice work and one whose insight we will use to inform our GWAS analysis.

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