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G3 (Bethesda). 2015 Aug 13;5(10):2073-84. doi: 10.1534/g3.115.021121.

Ensemble Learning of QTL Models Improves Prediction of Complex Traits.

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Department of Crop Science, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina 27695.
Department of Crop Science, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina 27695 U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Plant Science Research Unit, Raleigh, North Carolina 27695


Quantitative trait locus (QTL) models can provide useful insights into trait genetic architecture because of their straightforward interpretability but are less useful for genetic prediction because of the difficulty in including the effects of numerous small effect loci without overfitting. Tight linkage between markers introduces near collinearity among marker genotypes, complicating the detection of QTL and estimation of QTL effects in linkage mapping, and this problem is exacerbated by very high density linkage maps. Here we developed a thinning and aggregating (TAGGING) method as a new ensemble learning approach to QTL mapping. TAGGING reduces collinearity problems by thinning dense linkage maps, maintains aspects of marker selection that characterize standard QTL mapping, and by ensembling, incorporates information from many more markers-trait associations than traditional QTL mapping. The objective of TAGGING was to improve prediction power compared with QTL mapping while also providing more specific insights into genetic architecture than genome-wide prediction models. TAGGING was compared with standard QTL mapping using cross validation of empirical data from the maize (Zea mays L.) nested association mapping population. TAGGING-assisted QTL mapping substantially improved prediction ability for both biparental and multifamily populations by reducing both the variance and bias in prediction. Furthermore, an ensemble model combining predictions from TAGGING-assisted QTL and infinitesimal models improved prediction abilities over the component models, indicating some complementarity between model assumptions and suggesting that some trait genetic architectures involve a mixture of a few major QTL and polygenic effects.


Zea mays; ensemble modeling; quantitative trait loci; thinning and aggregating

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