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Open Access Highly Accessed Methodology article

Estimating ancestry and heterozygosity of hybrids using molecular markers

Benjamin M Fitzpatrick

Author Affiliations

Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37996, USA

National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis, Knoxville, TN 37996, USA

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2012, 12:131  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-12-131

Published: 31 July 2012

Abstract

Background

Hybridization, genetic mixture of distinct populations, gives rise to myriad recombinant genotypes. Characterizing the genomic composition of hybrids is critical for studies of hybrid zone dynamics, inheritance of traits, and consequences of hybridization for evolution and conservation. Hybrid genomes are often summarized either by an estimate of the proportion of alleles coming from each ancestral population or classification into discrete categories like F1, F2, backcross, or merely “hybrid” vs. “pure”. In most cases, it is not realistic to classify individuals into the restricted set of classes produced in the first two generations of admixture. However, the continuous ancestry index misses an important dimension of the genotype. Joint consideration of ancestry together with interclass heterozygosity (proportion of loci with alleles from both ancestral populations) captures all of the information in the discrete classification without the unrealistic assumption that only two generations of admixture have transpired.

Methods

I describe a maximum likelihood method for joint estimation of ancestry and interclass heterozygosity. I present two worked examples illustrating the value of the approach for describing variation among hybrid populations and evaluating the validity of the assumption underlying discrete classification.

Results

Naively classifying natural hybrids into the standard six line cross categories can be misleading, and false classification can be a serious problem for datasets with few molecular markers. My analysis underscores previous work showing that many (50 or more) ancestry informative markers are needed to avoid erroneous classification.

Conclusion

Although classification of hybrids might often be misleading, valuable inferences can be obtained by focusing directly on distributions of ancestry and heterozygosity. Estimating and visualizing the joint distribution of ancestry and interclass heterozygosity is an effective way to compare the genetic structure of hybrid populations and these estimates can be used in classic quantitative genetic methods for assessing additive, dominant, and epistatic genetic effects on hybrid phenotypes and fitness. The methods are implemented in a freely available package “HIest” for the R statistical software ( http://cran.r-project.org/web/packages/HIest/index.html webcite).