The expression of most developmental or behavioral traits involves complex interactions between quantitative trait loci (QTL) from the maternal and offspring genomes. The maternal-offspring interactions play a pivotal role in shaping the direction and rate of evolution in terms of their substantial contribution to quantitative genetic (co)variation. To study the genetics and evolution of maternal-offspring interactions, a unifying statistical framework that embraces both the direct and indirect genetic effects of maternal and offspring QTL on any complex trait is developed. This model is derived for a simple backcross design within the maximum-likelihood context, implemented with the EM algorithm. Results from extensive simulations suggest that this model can provide reasonable estimation of additive and dominant effects of the QTL at different generations and their interaction effects derived from the maternal and offspring genomes. Although our model is framed to characterize the actions and interactions of maternal and offspring QTL affecting offspring traits, the idea can be readily extended to decipher the genetic machinery of maternal traits, such as maternal care. Our model provides a powerful means for studying the evolutionary significance of indirect genetic effects in any sexually reproductive organisms.
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