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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Genetic substructures within the HapMap CEU sample (and Eurogenes' Northwest Europeans)


In this experiment I attempt to characterize more precisely the origins of some of the individuals from the HapMap CEU cohort. These samples are described by the HapMap project as Utah Americans of Western and Northern European descent. But this doesn't seem to be exactly true for at least two of them, who actually come out very Central European in all my tests. Moreover, it's obvious that some of the samples fit nicely into very specific areas of Western and Northern Europe. For instance, at this level of resolution, a few could pass as Irish, and others for Danes or even Swedes. Below is a quick and dirty ADMIXTURE analysis designed specifically for this experiment.



Key: Red = Sub-Saharan African, Yellow = Southern European, Green = North-Central European, Aqua = North Atlantic, Blue = Baltic, Pink = East Asian. See spreadsheet for details.


Based on the K=6 results it's fair to say that at least six of the CEU samples might pass for unmixed Scandinavians, most likely Danes or southern Swedes (NA12003, NA12057, NA12248, NA12249, NA12776 and NA12875). At least five could be confused for Irish or western British samples (NA10850, NA12005, NA12006, NA12386 and NA12812). The two Central European-like Utahns stick out from the CEU set due to their unusually high Baltic scores (NA11917 and NA12286). From the little I know about the CEU samples, I'd say that these two were of eastern or southeastern German origin. But they might have fairly recent ancestry from further east than that. My own MDS analysis (first image below) and a PCA plot from Lao et al. 2008 (second image, slightly edited by me to remove article text) confirm that such Scandinavian-like, German-like and Irish-like individuals do exist in the CEU set.



I think this experiment is very useful for a number of reasons. Firstly, it shows that the CEU set is not a homogeneous one, and carries clear substructures that can be picked up via fairly basic means. However, this doesn't make the CEU samples less valuable, but more so, due to the lack of public access to continental Northwestern European samples. Secondly, the test reveals some interesting information about the genetic substructures within Northwestern Europe. Here are some of my observations:

- Scandinavians often show very high levels of the North-Central European component, and moderately high levels of the North Atlantic component. Many also carry clear amounts of the Baltic component, but, as a rule, lower levels of the Southern European component.

- Germans mainly differ from the Scandinavians in that they carry the Southern European component at appreciable amounts. They show variable amounts of the Baltic component, with those from eastern Germany carrying the highest levels.

- Irish project members, especially those from western Ireland, show very high levels of the North Atlantic component, but low levels of the Southern European component.

- Western British samples, like those from Cornwall or western Scotland, are generally very similar to the Irish, mainly in that they carry the North Atlantic component at high levels. However, they often show somewhat higher levels of the Southern European component.

I'm eventually going to test these classifications of the CEU samples with ChromoPainter, which is by far the most accurate tool for such things at the moment. Unfortunately, it's also a lot of hard work and computationally intensive, so it might take a few weeks. I do have the allele frequencies from the above ADMIXTURE run, and it is possible to make a stand alone test from them. However, I'm not certain that's a good idea at present, due to the small number of samples involved. It might be worth doing when the right samples swell in number, so I can run a more robust analysis. In particular, I need more people from Ireland, Scotland and Scandinavia.

Reference...

Oscar Lao et al, Correlation between Genetic and Geographic Structure in Europe, Current Biology, Volume 18, Issue 16, 1241-1248, 26 August 2008, doi:10.1016/j.cub.2008.07.049