Analysis of population structure: A unifying framework and novel methods based on sparse factor analysis

Barbara Engelhardt Martin, Matthew Stephens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

103 Scopus citations


We consider the statistical analysis of population structure using genetic data. We show how the two most widely used approaches to modeling population structure, admixture-based models and principal components analysis (PCA), can be viewed within a single unifying framework of matrix factorization. Specifically, they can both be interpreted as approximating an observed genotype matrix by a product of two lower-rank matrices, but with different constraints or prior distributions on these lower-rank matrices. This opens the door to a large range of possible approaches to analyzing population structure, by considering other constraints or priors. In this paper, we introduce one such novel approach, based on sparse factor analysis (SFA). We investigate the effects of the different types of constraint in several real and simulated data sets. We find that SFA produces similar results to admixture-based models when the samples are descended from a few well-differentiated ancestral populations and can recapitulate the results of PCA when the population structure is more "continuous," as in isolation-by-distance models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1001117
JournalPLoS genetics
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Genetics(clinical)
  • Genetics
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Cancer Research


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