Recent Trends in Population Genetics:
More Data! More Math! Simple Models?
From the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, 2102 Biological Laboratories, 16 Divinity
Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138. I thank Kent Holsinger for the invitation to participate in the AGA centenary celebration and
for helpful comments on the manuscript. This work was supported by a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and
Engineers (DEB-0133760) from the National Science Foundation.
Address correspondence to John Wakeley at the address above, or e-mail: email@example.com.
Recent developments in population genetics are reviewed and placed in a historical context. Current and future challenges,
both in computational methodology and in analytical theory, are to develop models and techniques to extract the most
information possible from multilocus DNA datasets. As an example of the theoretical issues, Fve limiting forms of the
island model of population subdivision with migration are presented in a uniFed framework. These approximations illustrate
the interplay between migration and drift in structuring gene genealogies, and some of them make connections between the
fairly complicated island-model genealogical process and the much simpler, unstructured neutral coalescent process which
underlies most inferential techniques in population genetics.
The Feld of population genetics has undergone remarkable
changes in the past few decades. This has been driven mostly
by the development of DNA sequencing technologies, which
now make gathering large quantities of the most direct kind
of genetic data easy and affordable. Theoretical models and
computational techniques appropriate to handle these data
are still in development, and there is great need for further
work. This article gives a short history of the Feld in relation
to these developments and outlines some of the mathemat-
ical issues relevant to the study of gene genealogies of
samples from demographically complicated populations.
These sorts of analyses, which sometimes yield surprisingly
simple results, are illustrated for genetic ancestries of samples
of size two in Wright’s (1931) island model of population
structure, but the conclusions are limited neither to such
small samples nor to such simple population structures.
Theoretical Population Genetics History
The story of the emergence of theoretical population
genetics, out of a tension between biometricians and
Mendelians, has been told eloquently by Provine (1971). In
relation to the current state of the Feld, it is interesting to
note that even the Frst population genetics theory was data
driven. ±isher (1918), in an article often taken to represent
the birth of the Feld, used mathematics to show that two
apparently con²icting sets of available data were actually in
perfect harmony. In particular, ±isher (1918) demonstrated
that measured correlations between relatives, which were the
focus of biometricians’ studies, could be explained by the