Signatures of Convergent Evolution and Natural Selection at the Alcohol Dehydrogenase Gene Region are Correlated with Agriculture in Ethnically Diverse Africans.
The alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) family of genes encodes enzymes that catalyze the metabolism of ethanol into acetaldehyde. Nucleotide variation in ADH genes can affect the catalytic properties of these enzymes and is associated with a variety of traits, including alcoholism and cancer. Some ADH variants, including the ADH1B*48His (rs1229984) mutation in the ADH1B gene, reduce the risk of alcoholism and are under positive selection in multiple human populations. The advent of Neolithic agriculture and associated increase in fermented foods and beverages is hypothesized to have been a selective force acting on such variants. However, this hypothesis has not been tested in populations outside of Asia. Here, we use genome-wide selection scans to show that the ADH gene region is enriched for variants showing strong signals of positive selection in multiple Afroasiatic-speaking, agriculturalist populations from Ethiopia, and that this signal is unique among sub-Saharan Africans. We also observe strong selection signals at putatively functional variants in nearby lipid metabolism genes, which may influence evolutionary dynamics at the ADH region. Finally, we show that haplotypes carrying these selected variants were introduced into Northeast Africa from a West-Eurasian source within the last ∼2,000 years and experienced positive selection following admixture. These selection signals are not evident in nearby, genetically similar populations that practice hunting/gathering or pastoralist subsistence lifestyles, supporting the hypothesis that the emergence of agriculture shapes patterns of selection at ADH genes. Together, these results enhance our understanding of how adaptations to diverse environments and diets have influenced the African genomic landscape.