Consequences of recombination rate variation on quantitative trait locus mapping studies: Simulations based on the Drosophila melanogaster genome

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We examine the effect of variation in gene density per centimorgan on quantitative trait locus (QTL) mapping studies using data from the Drosophila melanogaster genome project and documented regional rates of recombination. There is tremendous variation in gene density per centimorgan across this genome, and we observe that this variation can cause systematic biases in QTL mapping studies. Specifically, in our simulated mapping experiments of 50 equal-effect QTL distributed randomly across the physical genome, very strong QTL are consistently detected near the centromeres of the two major autosomes, and few or no QTL are often detected on the X chromosome. This pattern persisted with varying heritability, marker density, QTL effect sizes, and transgressive segregation. Our results are consistent with empirical data collected from QTL mapping studies of this species and its close relatives, and they explain the "small X-effect" that has been documented in genetic studies of sexual isolation in the D. melanogaster group. Because of the biases resulting from recombination rate variation, results of QTL mapping studies should be taken as hypotheses to be tested by additional genetic methods, particularly in species for which detailed genetic and physical genome maps are not available.

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