Hardy-Weinberg Equilibrium in the Large Scale Genomic Sequencing Era

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Hardy-Weinberg Equilibrium (HWE) is used to estimate the number of homozygous and heterozygous variant carriers based on its allele frequency in populations that are not evolving. Deviations from HWE in large population databases have been used to detect genotyping errors, which can result in extreme heterozygote excess (HetExc). However, HetExc might also be a sign of natural selection since recessive disease causing variants should occur less frequently in a homozygous state in the population, but may reach high allele frequency in a heterozygous state, especially if they are advantageous. We developed a filtering strategy to detect these variants and applied it on genome data from 137,842 individuals. The main limitations of this approach were quality of genotype calls and insufficient population sizes, whereas population structure and inbreeding can reduce sensitivity, but not precision, in certain populations. Nevertheless, we identified 161 HetExc variants in 149 genes, most were specific to African/African American populations (~79.5%). Although the majority of them were not associated with known diseases, or were classified as clinically “benign”, they were enriched in genes associated with autosomal recessive diseases. The resulting dataset also contained two known recessive disease causing variants with evidence of heterozygote advantage in the sickle-cell anemia (HBB) and cystic fibrosis (CFTR). Finally, we provide supporting in silico evidence of a novel heterozygote advantageous variant in the chromodomain helicase DNA-binding protein 6 gene (CHD6; involved in influenza virus replication). We anticipate that our approach will aid the detection of rare recessive disease causing variants in the future.
Original languageEnglish
JournalFrontiers in Genetics
Early online date13 Mar 2020
Publication statusPublished - 13 Mar 2020


  • Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium (HWE)
  • Heterozygote advantage
  • GnomAD
  • recessive inheritance
  • Association Studies in Genetics


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