Alternative splicing (AS) of pre-messenger RNA is a common phenomenon that creates different transcripts from a single gene, and these alternative transcripts affect phenotypes. The majority of AS research has examined tissue and developmental specificity of expression of particular AS transcripts, how this specificity affects cell function, and how aberrant AS is related to disease. Few studies have examined quantitative between-individual variation in AS within a cell or tissue type, or in relation to phenotypes, but the results are compelling: quantitative variation in AS affects plastic traits such as stress, anxiety, fear, egg production, muscle performance, energetics and plant growth. Genomic analyses of AS are also at a nascent stage, but have revealed a number of significant evolutionary patterns. Growing knowledge of upstream genes and kinases that regulate AS provides the as-yet little explored potential to examine how these genes and pathways respond to environmental and genotype variables. Research in this area can provide glimpses of a labyrinth of genetic architectures that have rarely been considered in evolutionary and organismal biology, or in quantitative genetics. The scarcity of contribution to knowledge about AS from these fields is illustrated by the fact that heritability of quantitative variation in AS has not yet been determined for any gene in any organism. New research tactics that incorporate quantitative analyses of AS will allow organismal and evolutionary biologists to attain a fuller mechanistic understanding of many of the traits they study, and may lead to more rapid discovery of functionally important polymorphisms.
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