Estimation of distribution overlap of urn models

PLoS One. 2012;7(11):e42368. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0042368. Epub 2012 Nov 6.


A classical problem in statistics is estimating the expected coverage of a sample, which has had applications in gene expression, microbial ecology, optimization, and even numismatics. Here we consider a related extension of this problem to random samples of two discrete distributions. Specifically, we estimate what we call the dissimilarity probability of a sample, i.e., the probability of a draw from one distribution not being observed in [Formula: see text] draws from another distribution. We show our estimator of dissimilarity to be a [Formula: see text]-statistic and a uniformly minimum variance unbiased estimator of dissimilarity over the largest appropriate range of [Formula: see text]. Furthermore, despite the non-Markovian nature of our estimator when applied sequentially over [Formula: see text], we show it converges uniformly in probability to the dissimilarity parameter, and we present criteria when it is approximately normally distributed and admits a consistent jackknife estimator of its variance. As proof of concept, we analyze V35 16S rRNA data to discern between various microbial environments. Other potential applications concern any situation where dissimilarity of two discrete distributions may be of interest. For instance, in SELEX experiments, each urn could represent a random RNA pool and each draw a possible solution to a particular binding site problem over that pool. The dissimilarity of these pools is then related to the probability of finding binding site solutions in one pool that are absent in the other.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Databases as Topic
  • Humans
  • Metagenome / genetics
  • Models, Biological
  • Models, Statistical*
  • Probability*