Reduced reproductive success is associated with selective constraint on human genes

Eugene J. Gardner, Matthew D. C. Neville, Kaitlin E. Samocha, Kieron Barclay, Martin Kolk, Mari E. K. Niemi, George Kirov, Hilary C. Martin, Matthew E. Hurles

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Genome-wide sequencing of human populations has revealed substantial variation among genes in the intensity of purifying selection acting on damaging genetic variants 1. Although genes under the strongest selective constraint are highly enriched for associations with Mendelian disorders, most of these genes are not associated with disease and therefore the nature of the selection acting on them is not known 2. Here we show that genetic variants that damage these genes are associated with markedly reduced reproductive success, primarily owing to increased childlessness, with a stronger effect in males than in females. We present evidence that increased childlessness is probably mediated by genetically associated cognitive and behavioural traits, which may mean that male carriers are less likely to find reproductive partners. This reduction in reproductive success may account for 20% of purifying selection against heterozygous variants that ablate protein-coding genes. Although this genetic association may only account for a very minor fraction of the overall likelihood of being childless (less than 1%), especially when compared to more influential sociodemographic factors, it may influence how genes evolve over time.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)858-863
JournalNature
Volume603
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 23 Mar 2022
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

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