Maximum-likelihood estimation of recent shared ancestry (ERSA).
Huff C*, Witherspoon DJ*, Simonson T, Xing J, Watkins S, Zhang Y, Tuohy T, Neklason D, Burt R, Guthery S, Woodward S, Jorde LB. Genome Res. 2011 Feb 8.
*Co-first authors.

Software implementing ERSA is now available!
Download the most recent version here. (Make sure cookies and referrer headers are enabled for the transaction.)
Questions, comments, bug reports, feature requests? Contact David Witherspoon ( or Chad Huff (

Presentation describing method (pdf).
If you would like to use any of these slides, please contact me.

Accurate estimation of recent shared ancestry is important for genetics, evolution, medicine, conservation biology, and forensics. Established methods estimate kinship accurately for first- through third-degree relatives. We demonstrate that chromosomal segments shared by two individuals due to identity by descent (IBD) provide much additional information about shared ancestry. We developed a maximum-likelihood method for the estimation of recent shared ancestry (ERSA) from the number and lengths of IBD segments derived from high-density SNP or whole-genome sequence data. We used ERSA to estimate relationships from SNP genotypes in 169 individuals from three large, well-defined human pedigrees. ERSA is accurate to within one degree of relationship for 97% of first- through fifth-degree relatives and 80% of sixth- and seventh-degree relatives. We demonstrate that ERSA's statistical power approaches the maximum theoretical limit imposed by the fact that distant relatives frequently share no DNA through a common ancestor. ERSA greatly expands the range of relationships that can be estimated from genetic data and is implemented in a freely available software package.

IBD Segments