Two complementary perspectives on inter-individual genetic distance

Biosystems. 2013 Jan;111(1):18-36. doi: 10.1016/j.biosystems.2012.07.005. Epub 2012 Aug 14.


This paper examines population structure through the prism of pairwise genetic distances. Two complementary perspectives, framed as two simple questions, are explored: Q1: What is the probability that a random pair of individuals from the same local population is more genetically dissimilar than a random pair from two distinct populations? Q2: On average, how genetically different are two individuals from the same local population, in comparison with two individuals chosen from any two distinct populations? Models are developed to provide quantitative answers for the two questions, given allele frequencies across any number of markers from two diploid populations. The probability from Q1 is shown to drop to zero with increasing number of genetic markers even for very closely-related populations and rare alleles. The average genetic dissimilarity of two individuals from distinct populations diverges from the average dissimilarity of two individuals from the same population by a percentage dependent on estimates of population differentiation. This perspective also suggests a measure of population distance based on the intuitive notion of pairwise genetic distance, along with a simple method of estimation. Results from recent empirical research on inter-individual genetic distance in human populations are analyzed in the context of the theoretical framework.

MeSH terms

  • Gene Frequency
  • Genetic Markers / genetics
  • Genetic Variation / genetics*
  • Genetics, Population*
  • Humans
  • Models, Genetic*
  • Ploidies
  • Probability


  • Genetic Markers