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Hum Genomics. 2006 Jan;2(4):212-35.

Inference of ancestry: constructing hierarchical reference populations and assigning unknown individuals.

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Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation, Salt Lake City, UT, USA.


The ability to infer personal genetic ancestry is being increasingly utilised in certain medical and forensic situations. Herein, the unsupervised Bayesian clustering algorithms structure, is employed to analyse 377 autosomal short tandem repeats typed on 1,056 individuals from the Centre d'Etude du Polymorphisme Humain Human Diversity Panel. Individuals of known geographical origin were hierarchically classified into a framework of increasingly homogeneous clusters to serve as reference populations into which individuals of unknown ancestry can be assigned. The groupings were characterised by the geographical affinities of cluster members and the accuracy of these procedures was verified using several genetic indices. Fine-scale substructure was detectable beyond the broad population level classifications that previously have been explored in this dataset. Metrics indicated that within certain lines, the strongest structuring signals were detected at the leaves of the hierarchy where lineage-specific groupings were identified. The accuracy of unknown assignment was assessed at each level of the hierarchy using a 'leave one out' strategy in which each individual was stripped of cluster membership and then re-assigned using the supervised Bayesian clustering algorithm implemented in GeneClass2. Although most clusters at all levels of resolution experienced highly accurate assignment, a decline was observed in the finer levels due to the mixed membership characteristics of some individuals. The parameters defined by this study allowed for assignment of unknown individuals to genetically defined clusters with measured likelihood. Shared ancestry data can then be inferred for the unknown individual.

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