Accurately determining the distribution of rare variants is an important goal of human genetics, but resequencing of a sample large enough for this purpose has been unfeasible until now. Here, we applied Sanger sequencing of genomic PCR amplicons to resequence the diabetes-associated genes KCNJ11 and HHEX in 13,715 people (10,422 European Americans and 3,293 African Americans) and validated amplicons potentially harbouring rare variants using 454 pyrosequencing. We observed far more variation (expected variant-site count ∼578) than would have been predicted on the basis of earlier surveys, which could only capture the distribution of common variants. By comparison with earlier estimates based on common variants, our model shows a clear genetic signal of accelerating population growth, suggesting that humanity harbours a myriad of rare, deleterious variants, and that disease risk and the burden of disease in contemporary populations may be heavily influenced by the distribution of rare variants.
To fully catalogue rare genetic variation in humans, many samples need to be examined. In this study, Coventry et al. resequenced two genes, KCNJ11 and HHEX, in 13,715 humans, and concluded that most of the sequence variation arose recently and that variation is greater than expected.