A New Method to Infer Causal Phenotype Networks Using QTL and Phenotypic Information

H. Wang, F. van Eeuwijk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


In the context of genetics and breeding research on multiple phenotypic traits, reconstructing the directional or causal structure between phenotypic traits is a prerequisite for quantifying the effects of genetic interventions on the traits. Current approaches mainly exploit the genetic effects at quantitative trait loci (QTLs) to learn about causal relationships among phenotypic traits. A requirement for using these approaches is that at least one unique QTL has been identified for each trait studied. However, in practice, especially for molecular phenotypes such as metabolites, this prerequisite is often not met due to limited sample sizes, high noise levels and small QTL effects. Here, we present a novel heuristic search algorithm called the QTL+phenotype supervised orientation (QPSO) algorithm to infer causal directions for edges in undirected phenotype networks. The two main advantages of this algorithm are: first, it does not require QTLs for each and every trait; second, it takes into account associated phenotypic interactions in addition to detected QTLs when orienting undirected edges between traits. We evaluate and compare the performance of QPSO with another state-of-the-art approach, the QTL-directed dependency graph (QDG) algorithm. Simulation results show that our method has broader applicability and leads to more accurate overall orientations. We also illustrate our method with a real-life example involving 24 metabolites and a few major QTLs measured on an association panel of 93 tomato cultivars. Matlab source code implementing the proposed algorithm is freely available upon request.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere103997
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • quantitative trait loci
  • bayesian networks
  • tomato fruits
  • multi-trait
  • environment
  • model
  • accumulation
  • volatiles
  • genomics

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'A New Method to Infer Causal Phenotype Networks Using QTL and Phenotypic Information'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

  • Cite this