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Microsatellites are now used ubiquitously as genetic markers. One important application is to the assessment of population subdivision and phylogenetic relatedness. Such applications require a method of estimation of genetic distance. Here we examine the most widely used measure of microsatellite genetic distance, Goldstein et al.'s delta-mu squared ([delta mu]2), with respect to a large data set of 213 markers typed across samples from four diverse human populations. We find that (delta mu)2 yields plausible interpopulation distances. For the first time, we report significant interpopulation differences in mean microsatellite length, although the effect of these differences on (delta mu)2 is negligible. However, we also show that the method is extremely sensitive to one or two loci that contribute extreme values, even when a sample size of >200 loci is used. Some of these extreme loci can be removed on the grounds that some alleles carry large indels, but for others there is no clear justification for exclusion a priori. Our data suggest a rather recent African/non-African split, with an upper limit of some 70,000-80,000 years ago.

Original publication




Journal article


Am J Hum Genet

Publication Date





1125 - 1133


Africa, Alleles, Chromosome Mapping, Gene Frequency, Genetic Linkage, Genetic Markers, Heterozygote, Humans, India, Italy, Least-Squares Analysis, Microsatellite Repeats, Phylogeny, Sample Size, Sensitivity and Specificity, Time Factors