Fine-scale estimation of location of birth from genome-wide single-nucleotide polymorphism data

Genetics. 2012 Feb;190(2):669-77. doi: 10.1534/genetics.111.135657. Epub 2011 Nov 17.


Systematic nonrandom mating in populations results in genetic stratification and is predominantly caused by geographic separation, providing the opportunity to infer individuals' birthplace from genetic data. Such inference has been demonstrated for individuals' country of birth, but here we use data from the Northern Finland Birth Cohort 1966 (NFBC1966) to investigate the characteristics of genetic structure within a population and subsequently develop a method for inferring location to a finer scale. Principal component analysis (PCA) shows that while the first PCs are particularly informative for location, there is also location information in the higher-order PCs, but it cannot be captured by a linear model. We introduce a new method, pcLOCATE, which is able to exploit this information to improve the accuracy of location inference. pcLOCATE uses individuals' PC values to estimate the probability of birth in each town and then averages over all towns to give an estimated longitude and latitude of birth using a fully Bayesian model. We apply pcLOCATE to the NFBC1966 data to estimate parental birthplace, testing with successively more PCs and finding the model with the top 23 PCs most accurate, with a median distance of 23 km between the estimated and the true location. pcLOCATE predicts the most recent residence of NFBC1966 individuals to a median distance of 47 km. We also apply pcLOCATE to Indian individuals from the London Life Sciences Prospective Population Study (LOLIPOP) data, and find that birthplace is predicated to a median distance of 54 km from the true location. A method with such accuracy is potentially valuable in population genetics and forensics.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Algorithms
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Finland
  • Genetics, Population*
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • London
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Statistical
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide*
  • Principal Component Analysis*
  • Residence Characteristics / statistics & numerical data*