Identity by Descent: Variation in Meiosis, Across Genomes, and in Populations
Elizabeth A. Thompson


Gene identity by descent (IBD) is a fundamental concept that underlies genetically mediated similarities among relatives. Gene IBD is traced through ancestral meioses and is defined relative to founders of a pedigree, or to some time point or mutational origin in the coalescent of a set of extant genes in a population. The random process underlying changes in the patterns of IBD across the genome is recombination, so the natural context for defining IBD is the ancestral recombination graph (ARG), which specifies the complete ancestry of a collection of chromosomes. The ARG determines both the sequence of coalescent ancestries across the chromosome and the extant segments of DNA descending unbroken by recombination from their most recent common ancestor (MRCA). DNA segments IBD from a recent common ancestor have high probability of being of the same allelic type. Non-IBD DNA is modeled as of independent allelic type, but the population frame of reference for defining allelic independence can vary. Whether of IBD, allelic similarity, or phenotypic covariance, comparisons may be made to other genomic regions of the same gametes, or to the same genomic regions in other sets of gametes or diploid individuals. In this review, I present IBD as the framework connecting evolutionary and coalescent theory with the analysis of genetic data observed on individuals. I focus on the high variance of the processes that determine IBD, its changes across the genome, and its impact on observable data.

  • Received December 15, 2012.
  • Accepted March 10, 2013.
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