Background: Despite continuing technological advances, the cost for large-scale genotyping of a high number of samples can be prohibitive. The purpose of this study is to design a cost-saving strategy for SNP genotyping. We suggest making use of pooling, a group testing technique, to drop the amount of SNP arrays needed. We believe that this will be of the greatest importance for non-model organisms with more limited resources in terms of cost-efficient large-scale chips and high-quality reference genomes, such as application in wildlife monitoring, plant and animal breeding, but it is in essence species-agnostic. The proposed approach consists in grouping and mixing individual DNA samples into pools before testing these pools on bead-chips, such that the number of pools is less than the number of individual samples. We present a statistical estimation algorithm, based on the pooling outcomes, for inferring marker-wise the most likely genotype of every sample in each pool. Finally, we input these estimated genotypes into existing imputation algorithms. We compare the imputation performance from pooled data with the Beagle algorithm, and a local likelihood-aware phasing algorithm closely modeled on MaCH that we implemented.
Results: We conduct simulations based on human data from the 1000 Genomes Project, to aid comparison with other imputation studies. Based on the simulated data, we find that pooling impacts the genotype frequencies of the directly identifiable markers, without imputation. We also demonstrate how a combinatorial estimation of the genotype probabilities from the pooling design can improve the prediction performance of imputation models. Our algorithm achieves 93% concordance in predicting unassayed markers from pooled data, thus it outperforms the Beagle imputation model which reaches 80% concordance. We observe that the pooling design gives higher concordance for the rare variants than traditional low-density to high-density imputation commonly used for cost-effective genotyping of large cohorts.
Conclusions: We present promising results for combining a pooling scheme for SNP genotyping with computational genotype imputation, as demonstrated in simulations on human data, while using half the number of assays needed for sample-wise genotyping. These results could find potential applications in any context where the genotyping costs form a limiting factor on the study size, such as in marker-assisted selection in plant breeding.