Model-free Estimation of Recent Genetic Relatedness

Am J Hum Genet. 2016 Jan 7;98(1):127-48. doi: 10.1016/j.ajhg.2015.11.022.


Genealogical inference from genetic data is essential for a variety of applications in human genetics. In genome-wide and sequencing association studies, for example, accurate inference on both recent genetic relatedness, such as family structure, and more distant genetic relatedness, such as population structure, is necessary for protection against spurious associations. Distinguishing familial relatedness from population structure with genotype data, however, is difficult because both manifest as genetic similarity through the sharing of alleles. Existing approaches for inference on recent genetic relatedness have limitations in the presence of population structure, where they either (1) make strong and simplifying assumptions about population structure, which are often untenable, or (2) require correct specification of and appropriate reference population panels for the ancestries in the sample, which might be unknown or not well defined. Here, we propose PC-Relate, a model-free approach for estimating commonly used measures of recent genetic relatedness, such as kinship coefficients and IBD sharing probabilities, in the presence of unspecified structure. PC-Relate uses principal components calculated from genome-screen data to partition genetic correlations among sampled individuals due to the sharing of recent ancestors and more distant common ancestry into two separate components, without requiring specification of the ancestral populations or reference population panels. In simulation studies with population structure, including admixture, we demonstrate that PC-Relate provides accurate estimates of genetic relatedness and improved relationship classification over widely used approaches. We further demonstrate the utility of PC-Relate in applications to three ancestrally diverse samples that vary in both size and genealogical complexity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Los Angeles
  • Mexican Americans / genetics
  • Models, Genetic*