Community level genetic information can be essential to direct health measures and study demographic tendencies but is subject to considerable ethical and legal challenges. These concerns become less pronounced when analyzing urban sewage samples, which are ab ovo anonymous by their pooled nature. We were able to detect traces of the human mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) in urban sewage samples and to estimate the distribution of human mtDNA haplogroups. An expectation maximization approach was used to determine mtDNA haplogroup mixture proportions for samples collected at each different geographic location. Our results show reasonable agreement with both previous studies of ancient evolution or migration and current US census data; and are also readily reproducible and highly robust. Our approach presents a promising alternative for sample collection in studies focusing on the ethnic and genetic composition of populations or diseases associated with different mtDNA haplogroups and genotypes.
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