Detection of beneficial alleles that evolved under selective pressures related to climate, diet and subsistence may be achieved by considering simultaneously the spatial distributions of the allele frequencies and of specific aspects of human environments. We have developed an approach that allows scanning the human genome for signals of genetic adaptations to different environmental factors. This approach, applied to a worldwide sample of human populations, identified many alleles that exhibit subtle, but concordant changes in frequencies across populations that live in the same geographic region, but that differ in terms of climate, ecoregion, main dietary component or mode of subsistence. Among these alleles, we found many in genes involved in pigmentation and immune response as well as in pathways related to starch and sucrose metabolism, energy metabolism, UV radiation, infection and immunity, and cancer. Among the strongest signals, we also find several alleles that overlap with those from recent genome-wide association studies, including polymorphisms associated with pigmentation, autoimmune diseases, lipid levels and type 2 diabetes. Therefore, to the extent that genetic factors contribute to health disparities, it may be speculated that adaptations to different environments may have played a role in shaping the different disease susceptibility across human populations.
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