SNP heterozygosity, relatedness and inbreeding of whole genomes from the isolated population of the Faroe Islands

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Background: The population of the Faroe Islands is an isolated population but very little is known about it from whole genome sequencing. The population of about 50000 people has a high incidence of rare diseases e.g., 1:300 for Primary Carnitine Defciency. A screening programme was implemented, and eleven persons were also whole genome sequenced at x37 coverage for diagnostic purposes of those cases that were not afected by the known mutations. The purpose of our study is to utilize the high coverage data to explore the genomic variation and the ancestral history of the population. We study the SNP heterozygosity, the pairwise relatedness from kinship, the inbreeding from runs of homozygosity ROH, and we fnd the minor allele frequency distribution. We estimate the population ancestry and the timing of the founding event by using the whole genomes from eight consenting individuals.

Results: We fnd the number of SNPs and the heterozygosity for the eight individual samples, and for merged samples, for which we also study the relatedness. We fnd close relatedness between the supposedly unrelated individuals. From ROH, we interpret the high relatedness as an ancient property of the isolated population. A bottleneck event is estimated starting between years ∼ 50 − 300 with a maximum consanguineous population in year ∼ 600 and similarly consanguineous between years 500 − 700. The ancestry analysis shows the population descends from founders of> 99% European and< 1% Admixed American ancestry. A distinct clustering near the central European and British populations of the 1000 Genome Project is likely the result of the population isolation and genetic drift. The minor allele frequency distribution suggests many rare variants.

Conclusions: The ancestry is mainly European while the inbreeding is higher compared to European populations and population isolates. The Faroese population has inbreeding more like ancient Europeans. We discovered a bottlenecked and consanguineous population event and estimated it starting in the 1st-4th century as compared to the oldest archaeological fndings from the 4th-6th century.
Original languageEnglish
Article number707 (2023)
Number of pages14
JournalBMC genomics
Publication statusPublished - 23 Nov 2023


  • WG SNPs
  • Heterozygosity
  • Relatedness
  • ROH
  • Inbreeding
  • maf
  • Ancestry
  • Population isolate


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