A rigorous measure of genome-wide genetic shuffling that takes into account crossover positions and Mendel's second law.


Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138; [Email]


Comparative studies in evolutionary genetics rely critically on evaluation of the total amount of genetic shuffling that occurs during gamete production. Such studies have been hampered by the absence of a direct measure of this quantity. Existing measures consider crossing-over by simply counting the average number of crossovers per meiosis. This is qualitatively inadequate, because the positions of crossovers along a chromosome are also critical: a crossover toward the middle of a chromosome causes more shuffling than a crossover toward the tip. Moreover, traditional measures fail to consider shuffling from independent assortment of homologous chromosomes (Mendel's second law). Here, we present a rigorous measure of genome-wide shuffling that does not suffer from these limitations. We define the parameter [Formula: see text] as the probability that the alleles at two randomly chosen loci are shuffled during gamete production. This measure can be decomposed into separate contributions from crossover number and position and from independent assortment. Intrinsic implications of this metric include the fact that [Formula: see text] is larger when crossovers are more evenly spaced, which suggests a selective advantage of crossover interference. Utilization of [Formula: see text] is enabled by powerful emergent methods for determining crossover positions either cytologically or by DNA sequencing. Application of our analysis to such data from human male and female reveals that (i) [Formula: see text] in humans is close to its maximum possible value of 1/2 and that (ii) this high level of shuffling is due almost entirely to independent assortment, the contribution of which is ∼30 times greater than that of crossovers.