Analysis of population structure: a unifying framework and novel methods based on sparse factor analysis

PLoS Genet. 2010 Sep 16;6(9):e1001117. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1001117.


We consider the statistical analysis of population structure using genetic data. We show how the two most widely used approaches to modeling population structure, admixture-based models and principal components analysis (PCA), can be viewed within a single unifying framework of matrix factorization. Specifically, they can both be interpreted as approximating an observed genotype matrix by a product of two lower-rank matrices, but with different constraints or prior distributions on these lower-rank matrices. This opens the door to a large range of possible approaches to analyzing population structure, by considering other constraints or priors. In this paper, we introduce one such novel approach, based on sparse factor analysis (SFA). We investigate the effects of the different types of constraint in several real and simulated data sets. We find that SFA produces similar results to admixture-based models when the samples are descended from a few well-differentiated ancestral populations and can recapitulate the results of PCA when the population structure is more "continuous," as in isolation-by-distance models.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Africa
  • Computer Simulation
  • Databases, Genetic
  • Europe
  • Factor Analysis, Statistical
  • Genetics, Population / methods*
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • India
  • Models, Genetic
  • Population Dynamics*
  • Principal Component Analysis