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Open Access Methodology article

Efficient haplotype block recognition of very long and dense genetic sequences

Daniel Taliun12*, Johann Gamper2 and Cristian Pattaro1

Author Affiliations

1 Center for Biomedicine, European Academy of Bolzano/Bozen (EURAC), Bozen-Bolzano, Italy

2 Free University of Bozen-Bolzano, Bozen-Bolzano, Italy

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BMC Bioinformatics 2014, 15:10  doi:10.1186/1471-2105-15-10

Published: 14 January 2014



The new sequencing technologies enable to scan very long and dense genetic sequences, obtaining datasets of genetic markers that are an order of magnitude larger than previously available. Such genetic sequences are characterized by common alleles interspersed with multiple rarer alleles. This situation has renewed the interest for the identification of haplotypes carrying the rare risk alleles. However, large scale explorations of the linkage-disequilibrium (LD) pattern to identify haplotype blocks are not easy to perform, because traditional algorithms have at least Θ(n2) time and memory complexity.


We derived three incremental optimizations of the widely used haplotype block recognition algorithm proposed by Gabriel et al. in 2002. Our most efficient solution, called MIG ++, has only Θ(n) memory complexity and, on a genome-wide scale, it omits >80% of the calculations, which makes it an order of magnitude faster than the original algorithm. Differently from the existing software, the MIG ++ analyzes the LD between SNPs at any distance, avoiding restrictions on the maximal block length. The haplotype block partition of the entire HapMap II CEPH dataset was obtained in 457 hours. By replacing the standard likelihood-based D variance estimator with an approximated estimator, the runtime was further improved. While producing a coarser partition, the approximate method allowed to obtain the full-genome haplotype block partition of the entire 1000 Genomes Project CEPH dataset in 44 hours, with no restrictions on allele frequency or long-range correlations. These experiments showed that LD-based haplotype blocks can span more than one million base-pairs in both HapMap II and 1000 Genomes datasets. An application to the North American Rheumatoid Arthritis Consortium (NARAC) dataset shows how the MIG ++ can support genome-wide haplotype association studies.


The MIG ++ enables to perform LD-based haplotype block recognition on genetic sequences of any length and density. In the new generation sequencing era, this can help identify haplotypes that carry rare variants of interest. The low computational requirements open the possibility to include the haplotype block structure into genome-wide association scans, downstream analyses, and visual interfaces for online genome browsers.