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Pemberton, Trevor J.; Verdu, Paul; Becker, Noemie S.; Willer, Cristen J.; Hewlett, Barry S.; Le Bomin, Sylvie; Froment, Alain; Rosenberg, Noah A. and Heyer, Evelyne (2018): A genome scan for genes underlying adult body size differences between Central African hunter-gatherers and farmers. In: Human Genetics, Vol. 137, No. 6-7: pp. 487-509

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The evolutionary and biological bases of the Central African "pygmy" phenotype, a characteristic of rainforest hunter-gatherers defined by reduced body size compared with neighboring farmers, remain largely unknown. Here, we perform a joint investigation in Central African hunter-gatherers and farmers of adult standing height, sitting height, leg length, and body mass index (BMI), considering 358 hunter-gatherers and 169 farmers with genotypes for 153,798 SNPs. In addition to reduced standing heights, hunter-gatherers have shorter sitting heights and leg lengths and higher sitting/standing height ratios than farmers and lower BMI for males. Standing height, sitting height, and leg length are strongly correlated with inferred levels of farmer genetic ancestry, whereas BMI is only weakly correlated, perhaps reflecting greater contributions of non-genetic factors to body weight than to height. Single- and multi-marker association tests identify one region and eight genes associated with hunter-gatherer/farmer status, and 24 genes associated with the height-related traits. Many of these genes have putative functions consistent with roles in determining their associated traits and the pygmy phenotype, and they include three associated with standing height in non-Africans (PRKG1, DSCAM, MAGI2). We find evidence that European height-associated SNPs or variants in linkage disequilibrium with them contribute to standing- and sitting-height determination in Central Africans, but not to the differential status of hunter-gatherers and farmers. These findings provide new insights into the biological basis of the pygmy phenotype, and they highlight the potential of cross-population studies for exploring the genetic basis of phenotypes that vary naturally across populations.

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