Malecot's method of coancestry

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Malecot's coancestry coefficient, f, refers to an indirect measure of genetic similarity of two individuals which was initially devised by the French mathematician Gustave Malécot.

f is defined as the probability that any two alleles, sampled at random (one from each individual), are identical copies of an ancestral allele. In species with well-known lineages (such as domesticated crops), f can be calculated by examining detailed pedigree records. Modernly, f can be estimated using genetic marker data.

Evolution of inbreeding coefficient in finite size populations[edit]

In a finite size population, after some generations, all individuals will have a common ancestor : f \rightarrow 1 . Consider a non-sexual population of fixed size N, and call f_i the inbreeding coefficient of generation i. Here, f means the probability that two individuals picked at random will have a common ancestor. At each generation, each individual produces a large number k \gg 1 of descendants, from the pool of which N individual will be chosen at random to form the new generation.

At generation n, the probability that two individuals have a common ancestor is "they have a common parent" OR "they descend from two distinct individuals which have a common ancestor" :

f_n = \frac{k-1}{kN} + \frac{k(N-1)}{kN}f_{n-1}
  \approx  \frac{1}{N}+ (1-\frac{1}{N})f_{n-1}.

This is a recurrence relation easily solved. Considering the worst case where at generation zero, no two individuals have a common ancestor,

f_0=0, we get
f_n = 1 - (1- \frac{1}{N})^n.

The scale of the fixation time (average number of generation it takes to homogenize the population) is therefore

 \bar{n}= -1/\log(1-1/N) \approx N.

This computation trivially extends to the inbreeding coefficients of alleles in a sexual population by changing N to 2N (the number of gametes).


  • Malécot G. Les mathématiques de l'hérédité. Paris: Masson & Cie, 1948.