SNPs


Written By: Ehsan Jahandarpour

A Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP, pronounced snip; plural snips) is a DNA sequence variation occurring commonly within a population (e.g. 1%) in which a single nucleotide — A, T, C or G — in the genome (or other shared sequence) differs between members of a biological species or paired chromosomes. For example, two sequenced DNA fragments from different individuals, AAGCCTA to AAGCTTA, contain a difference in a single nucleotide. In this case we say that there are two alleles. Almost all common SNPs have only two alleles. The genomic distribution of SNPs is not homogenous; SNPs occur in non-coding regions more frequently than in coding regions or, in general, where natural selection is acting and ‘fixing’ the allele (eliminating other variants) of the SNP that constitutes the most favorable genetic adaptation. Other factors, like genetic recombination and mutation rate, can also determine SNP density. SNP density can be predicted by the presence of microsatellites: AT microsatellites in particular are potent predictors of SNP density, with long (AT)(n) repeat tracts tending to be found in regions of significantly reduced SNP density and low GC content. Within a population, SNPs can be assigned a minor allele frequency — the lowest allele frequency at a locus that is observed in a particular population. This is simply the lesser of the two allele frequencies for single-nucleotide polymorphisms. There are variations between human populations, so a SNP allele that is common in one geographical or ethnic group may be much rarer in another. These genetic variations between individuals (particularly in non-coding parts of the genome) are sometimes exploited in DNA fingerprinting, which is used in forensic science. Also, these genetic variations underlie differences in our susceptibility to disease. The severity of illness and the way our body responds to treatments are also manifestations of genetic variations. For example, a single base mutation in the APOE (apolipoprotein E) gene is associated with a higher risk for Alzheimer disease.