Association studies have been successful at identifying genomic regions associated with important traits, but routinely employ models that only consider the additive contribution of an individual marker. Because quantitative trait variability typically arises from multiple additive and non-additive sources, utilization of statistical approaches that include main and two-way interaction marker effects of several loci in one model could lead to unprecedented characterization of these sources. Here we examine the ability of one such approach, called the Stepwise Procedure for constructing an Additive and Epistatic Multi-Locus model (SPAEML), to detect additive and epistatic signals simulated using maize and human marker data. Our results revealed that SPAEML was capable of detecting quantitative trait nucleotides (QTNs) at sample sizes as low as n = 300 and consistently specifying signals as additive and epistatic for larger sizes. Sample size and minor allele frequency had a major influence on SPAEML’s ability to distinguish between additive and epistatic signals, while the number of markers tested did not. We conclude that SPAEML is a useful approach for providing further elucidation of the additive and epistatic sources contributing to trait variability when applied to a small subset of genome-wide markers located within specific genomic regions identified using a priori analyses.
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