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Nat Rev Genet. 2002 Jan;3(1):11-21.

Understanding quantitative genetic variation.

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Institute of Cell, Animal and Population Biology, University of Edinburgh, West Mains Road, Edinburgh EH9 3JT, UK.


Until recently, it was impracticable to identify the genes that are responsible for variation in continuous traits, or to directly observe the effects of their different alleles. Now, the abundance of genetic markers has made it possible to identify quantitative trait loci (QTL)--the regions of a chromosome or, ideally, individual sequence variants that are responsible for trait variation. What kind of QTL do we expect to find and what can our observations of QTL tell us about how organisms evolve? The key to understanding the evolutionary significance of QTL is to understand the nature of inherited variation, not in the immediate mechanistic sense of how genes influence phenotype, but, rather, to know what evolutionary forces maintain genetic variability.

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