Systems Mapping: How to Improve the Genetic Mapping of Complex Traits Through Design Principles of Biological Systems

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Wu et al. BMC Systems Biology 2011, 5:84

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Background: Every phenotypic trait can be viewed as a “system” in which a group of interconnected componentsfunction synergistically to yield a unified whole. Once a system’s components and their interactions have beendelineated according to biological principles, we can manipulate and engineer functionally relevant components toproduce a desirable system phenotype.Results: We describe a conceptual framework for mapping quantitative trait loci (QTLs) that control complex traitsby treating trait formation as a dynamic system. This framework, called systems mapping, incorporates a system ofdifferential equations that quantifies how alterations of different components lead to the global change of traitdevelopment and function through genes, and provides a quantitative and testable platform for assessing theinterplay between gene action and development. We applied systems mapping to analyze biomass growth data ina mapping population of soybeans and identified specific loci that are responsible for the dynamics of biomasspartitioning to leaves, stem, and roots.Conclusions: We show that systems mapping implemented by design principles of biological systems is quiteversatile for deciphering the genetic machineries for size-shape, structural-functional, sink-source and pleiotropicrelationships underlying plant physiology and development. Systems mapping should enable geneticists to shedlight on the genetic complexity of any biological system in plants and other organisms and predict itsphysiological and pathological states.

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