Journal Article

Reduced reproductive success is associated with selective constraint on human genes

Gardner, E. J., Neville, M. D. C., Samocha, K. E., Barclay, K. J., Kolk, M., Niemi, M. E. K., Kirov, G., Martin, H. C., Hurles, M. E.
Nature, 603:7903, 858–863 (2022)


Genome-wide sequencing of human populations has revealed substantial variation among genes in the intensity of purifying selection acting on damaging genetic variants. 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. 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.

Keywords: United Kingdom, fertility, genes, mate selection, population genetics
The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock is one of the leading demographic research centers in the world. It's part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German research society.