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Number of individuals and molecular markers to use in genetic differentiation studies


Raul F. Medina, Fax: 979-845-6305; E-mail:


Molecular markers are frequently used to study genetic variation among individuals within or between populations. Differences in marker banding patterns can be used to verify if individuals do, or do not, represent distinct groups or populations. Only in 2005, more than 500 studies used molecular markers to group individuals in clusters. Such studies make use of an arbitrary number of molecular markers from each of an arbitrary number of individuals presumed to represent distinct genotypes. However, the greater the genetic variation, the more likely a larger number of individuals and markers will be needed to capture a population's genetic signature. The numbers of both, markers and individuals included thus affect the way in which individuals are organized through cluster analyses, thereby affecting the conclusions drawn. Here we present a method that provides statistical criteria to verify that individual and marker sample sizes are sufficient to accurately depict genetic differentiation among different populations. Our method uses a resampling technique to assess the reproducibility of obtaining a particular grouping pattern for specific data sets. It thus, allows to estimate the robustness of the results obtained without including additional individuals, or markers.