Statistical methods for QTL mapping and genomic prediction of multiple traits and environments: case studies in pepper

Nurudeen Adeniyi Alimi

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


In this thesis we describe the results of a number of quantitative techniques that were used to understand the genetics of yield in pepper as an example of complex trait measured in a number of environments. Main objectives were; i) to propose a number of mixed models to detect QTLs for multiple traits and multiple environments, ii) to extend the multi-trait QTL models to a multi-trait genomic prediction model, iii) to study how well the complex trait yield can be indirectly predicted from its component traits, and iv) to understand the ‘causal’ relationships between the target trait yield and its component traits.

The thesis is part of an EU-FP7 project “Smart tools for Prediction and Improvements of Crop Yield” (SPICY- This project generated phenotypic data from four environments using 149 individuals from the sixth generation of recombinant inbred lines obtained from intraspecific cross between  large – fruited inbred pepper cultivar ‘Yolo Wonder’ (YW) and the hot pepper cultivar ‘Criollo de Morelos 334’ (CM 334). A total of 16 physiological traits were evaluated across the four trials and various types of genetic parameters were estimated. In a first analysis, the traits were univariately analyzed using linear mixed model. Trait heritabilities were generally large (ranging between 0.43 – 0.96 with an average of 0.86) and mostly comparable across trials while many of the traits displayed heterosis and transgression. The same QTLs were detected across the four trials, though QTL magnitude differed for many of the traits. We also found that some QTLs affected more than one trait, suggesting QTL pleiotropy (a QTL region affecting more than one trait). We discussed our results in the light of previously reported QTLs for these and similar traits in pepper.

We addressed the presence of genotype-by-environment interaction (GEI) in yield and the other traits through a multi-environment (ME) mixed model methodology with terms for QTL-by-environment interaction (QEI). We opined that yield would benefit from joint analysis with other traits and so deployed two other mixed model based multi-response QTL approaches: a multi-trait approach (MT) and a multi-trait multi-environment approach (MTME). For yield as well as the other traits, MTME was superior to ME and MT in the number of QTLs, the explained variance and accuracy of predictions. Many of the detected QTLs were pleiotropic and showed quantitative QEI. The results confirmed the feasibility and strengths of novel mixed model QTL methodology to study the architecture of complex traits.

The QTL methods considered thus far are not well suited for prediction purposes as only a limited set of QTL-related markers are used. Since the main interest of this research includes improvement of yield prediction, we explored both single-trait and multi-trait versions of genomic prediction (GP) models as alternatives to the QTL-based prediction (QP) models. This was termed direct prediction. The methods differed in their predictive accuracies with GP methods outperforming QP methods in both single and multi-traits situations. We borrowed ideas from crop growth model (CGM) to dissect complex trait yield into a number of its component traits. Here, we integrated QTL/genomic prediction and CGM approaches and showed that the target trait yield can be predicted via its component traits together with environmental covariables. This was termed indirect prediction. The CGM approach seemed to work well at first sight, but this is especially due to the fact that yield appeared to be strongly driven by just one of its components, the partitioning to fruit.

An alternative representation of the biological knowledge of a complex target trait such as yield is provided by network type models. We constructed both conditional and unconditional networks across the four environments to understand the ‘causal’ relationships between target trait yield and its component traits. The final networks for each environment from both conditional and unconditional methods were used in a structural equation model to assess the causal relationships. Conditioning QTL mapping on network structure improved detection of refined genetic architecture by distinguishing between QTL with direct and indirect effects, thereby removing non-significant effects found in the unconditional network and resolving QTL pleiotropy. Similar to the CGM topology, yield was established to be downstream to its component traits, indicating that yield can be studied and predicted from its component traits. Thus, the genetic improvements of yield would benefit from improvements on the component traits.

Finally, complex trait prediction can be enhanced by a full integration of the methods described in the different chapters. Recent research efforts have been channelled to incorporating both multivariate whole genome prediction models and crop growth models. Further research is required, but we hope that the present thesis presents useful steps towards better prediction models for complex traits exhibiting genotype by environment interaction.


Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • van Eeuwijk, Fred, Promotor
  • Bink, Marco, Co-promotor
Award date1 Nov 2016
Place of PublicationWageningen
Print ISBNs9789462579361
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • capsicum
  • statistical analysis
  • statistics
  • genomics
  • quantitative trait loci
  • quantitative traits
  • quantitative methods
  • genetics
  • crop yield

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