A haplotype is a group of genes within an organism that was inherited together from a single parent. The word “haplotype” is derived from the word “haploid,” which describes cells with only one set of chromosomes, and from the word “genotype,” which refers to the genetic makeup of an organism. A haplotype can describe a pair of genes inherited together from one parent on one chromosome, or it can describe all of the genes on a chromosome that were inherited together from a single parent. This group of genes was inherited together because of genetic linkage, or the phenomenon by which genes that are close to each other on the same chromosome are often inherited together. In addition, the term “haplotype” can also refer to the inheritance of a cluster of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), which are variations at single positions in the DNA sequence among individuals.
By examining haplotypes, scientists can identify patterns of genetic variation that are associated with health and disease states. For instance, if a haplotype is associated with a certain disease, then scientists can examine stretches of DNA near the SNP cluster to try to identify the gene or genes responsible for causing the disease.
Over the course of many generations, segments of the ancestral chromosomes in an interbreeding population are shuffled through repeated recombination events. Some of the segments of the ancestral chromosomes occur as regions of DNA sequences that are shared by multiple individuals (Figure 1). These segments are regions of chromosomes that have not been broken up by recombination, and they are separated by places where recombination has occurred. These segments are the haplotypes that enable geneticists to search for genes involved in diseases and other medically important traits.