JOURNAL ARTICLE

Limits on the reproducibility of marker associations with southern leaf blight resistance in the maize nested association mapping population

Yang Bian, Qin Yang, Peter J Balint-Kurti, Randall J Wisser, James B Holland
BMC Genomics 2014, 15: 1068
25475173

BACKGROUND: A previous study reported a comprehensive quantitative trait locus (QTL) and genome wide association study (GWAS) of southern leaf blight (SLB) resistance in the maize Nested Association Mapping (NAM) panel. Since that time, the genomic resources available for such analyses have improved substantially. An updated NAM genetic linkage map has a nearly six-fold greater marker density than the previous map and the combined SNPs and read-depth variants (RDVs) from maize HapMaps 1 and 2 provided 28.5 M genomic variants for association analysis, 17 fold more than HapMap 1. In addition, phenotypic values of the NAM RILs were re-estimated to account for environment-specific flowering time covariates and a small proportion of lines were dropped due to genotypic data quality problems. Comparisons of original and updated QTL and GWAS results confound the effects of linkage map density, GWAS marker density, population sample size, and phenotype estimates. Therefore, we evaluated the effects of changing each of these parameters individually and in combination to determine their relative impact on marker-trait associations in original and updated analyses.

RESULTS: Of the four parameters varied, map density caused the largest changes in QTL and GWAS results. The updated QTL model had better cross-validation prediction accuracy than the previous model. Whereas joint linkage QTL positions were relatively stable to input changes, the residual values derived from those QTL models (used as inputs to GWAS) were more sensitive, resulting in substantial differences between GWAS results. The updated NAM GWAS identified several candidate genes consistent with previous QTL fine-mapping results.

CONCLUSIONS: The highly polygenic nature of resistance to SLB complicates the identification of causal genes. Joint linkage QTL are relatively stable to perturbations of data inputs, but their resolution is generally on the order of tens or more Mbp. GWAS associations have higher resolution, but lower power due to stringent thresholds designed to minimize false positive associations, resulting in variability of detection across studies. The updated higher density linkage map improves QTL estimation and, along with a much denser SNP HapMap, greatly increases the likelihood of detecting SNPs in linkage with causal variants. We recommend use of the updated genetic resources and results but emphasize the limited repeatability of small-effect associations.

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