Bulk Genotyping of Biopsies Can Create Spurious Evidence for Hetereogeneity in Mutation Content

Rumen Kostadinov, Carlo C. Maley, Mary K. Kuhner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


When multiple samples are taken from the neoplastic tissues of a single patient, it is natural to compare their mutation content. This is often done by bulk genotyping of whole biopsies, but the chance that a mutation will be detected in bulk genotyping depends on its local frequency in the sample. When the underlying mutation count per cell is equal, homogenous biopsies will have more high-frequency mutations, and thus more detectable mutations, than heterogeneous ones. Using simulations, we show that bulk genotyping of data simulated under a neutral model of somatic evolution generates strong spurious evidence for non-neutrality, because the pattern of tissue growth systematically generates differences in biopsy heterogeneity. Any experiment which compares mutation content across bulk-genotyped biopsies may therefore suggest mutation rate or selection intensity variation even when these forces are absent. We discuss computational and experimental approaches for resolving this problem.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1004413
JournalPLoS computational biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2016
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Ecology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Computational Theory and Mathematics


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