A statistical model for the genetic origin of allometric scaling laws in biology

Rongling Wu, Chang Xing Ma, Ramon C. Littell, George Casella

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Many biological processes, from cellular metabolism to population dynamics, are characterized by particular allometric scaling (power-law) relationships between size and rate. Although such allometric relationships may be under genetic determination, their precise genetic mechanisms have not been clearly understood due to a lack of a statistical analytical method. In this paper, we present a basic statistical framework for mapping quantitative genes (or quantitative trait loci, QTL) responsible for universal quarter-power scaling laws of organic structure and function with the entire body size. Our model framework allows the testing of whether a single QTL affects the allometric relationship of two traits or whether more than one linked QTL is segregating. Like traditional multi-trait mapping, this new model can increase the power to detect the underlying QTL and the precision of its localization on the genome. Beyond the traditional method, this model is integrated with pervasive scaling laws to take advantage of the mechanistic relationships of biological structures and processes. Simulation studies indicate that the estimation precision of the QTL position and effect can be improved when the scaling relationship of the two traits is considered. The application of our model in a real example from forest trees leads to successful detection of a QTL governing the allometric relationship of third-year stem height with third-year stem biomass. The model proposed here has implications for genetic, evolutionary, biomedicinal and breeding research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)121-135
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Theoretical Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2002

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Statistics and Probability
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • Applied Mathematics


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