The role of positive selection in human evolution remains controversial. On the one hand, scans for positive selection have identified hundreds of candidate loci, and the genome-wide patterns of polymorphism show signatures consistent with frequent positive selection. On the other hand, recent studies have argued that many of the candidate loci are false positives and that most genome-wide signatures of adaptation are in fact due to reduction of neutral diversity by linked deleterious mutations, known as background selection. Here we analyze human polymorphism data from the 1000 Genomes Project and detect signatures of positive selection once we correct for the effects of background selection. We show that levels of neutral polymorphism are lower near amino acid substitutions, with the strongest reduction observed specifically near functionally consequential amino acid substitutions. Furthermore, amino acid substitutions are associated with signatures of recent adaptation that should not be generated by background selection, such as unusually long and frequent haplotypes and specific distortions in the site frequency spectrum. We use forward simulations to argue that the observed signatures require a high rate of strongly adaptive substitutions near amino acid changes. We further demonstrate that the observed signatures of positive selection correlate better with the presence of regulatory sequences, as predicted by the ENCODE Project Consortium, than with the positions of amino acid substitutions. Our results suggest that adaptation was frequent in human evolution and provide support for the hypothesis of King and Wilson that adaptive divergence is primarily driven by regulatory changes.
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