Discussion Paper no. 05-06


The concept of genetic identity–by–descent (IBD) has markedly advanced our understanding of the genetic similarity among relatives and triggered a number of developments in epidemiological genetics. However, no empirical measure of this relatedness throughout the whole human genome has yet been published. Analyzing highly polymorphic genetic variations from the Centre d’études du polymorphisme humain (CEPH) database, we report the first genome–wide estimation of the mean and variation in IBD sharing among siblings. From 1,522 microsatellite markers spaced at an average of 2.3 cM on 498 sibling pairs, we estimated a mean of 0.4994 and a standard deviation of 0.0395. In order to account for the impact of varying chromosomal lengths and recombination rates, the analysis was also performed at the chromosomal and marker levels and for paternal and maternal DNA separately. Based on the variation, we estimate an “effective number of segregating loci” of around 80 for sibling pairs over the whole genome (i.e., the number of loci that would yield the same standard deviation in IBD sharing if all loci were segregating independently). Finally, we briefly assess the impact of genotyping errors on IBD estimations, compare our results to published theoretical and simulated expectations, and discuss some implications of our findings.