The effects of quantitative trait loci (QTL) on phenotypic development may depend on the environment (QTL X environment interaction), other QTL (genetic epistasis), or both. In this article, we present a new statistical model for characterizing specific QTL that display environment-dependent genetic expressions and genotype X environment interactions for developmental trajectories. Our model was derived within the maximum-likelihood-based mixture model framework, incorporated by biologically meaningful growth equations and environment-dependent genetic effects of QTL, and implemented with the EM algorithm. With this model, we can characterize the dynamic patterns of genetic effects of QTL governing growth curves and estimate the global effect of the underlying QTL during the course of growth and development. In a real example with rice, our model has successfully detected several QTL that produce differences in their genetic expression between two contrasting environments. These detected QTL cause significant genotype X environment interactions for some fundamental aspects of growth trajectories. The model provides the basis for deciphering the genetic architecture of trait expression adjusted to different biotic and abiotic environments and genetic relationships for growth rates and the timing of life-history events for any organism.
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