Systems mapping: How to improve the genetic mapping of complex traits through design principles of biological systems

Rongling Wu, Jiguo Cao, Zhongwen Huang, Zhong Wang, Junyi Gai, Eduardo Vallejos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Background: Every phenotypic trait can be viewed as a "system" in which a group of interconnected components function synergistically to yield a unified whole. Once a system's components and their interactions have been delineated according to biological principles, we can manipulate and engineer functionally relevant components to produce a desirable system phenotype.Results: We describe a conceptual framework for mapping quantitative trait loci (QTLs) that control complex traits by treating trait formation as a dynamic system. This framework, called systems mapping, incorporates a system of differential equations that quantifies how alterations of different components lead to the global change of trait development and function through genes, and provides a quantitative and testable platform for assessing the interplay between gene action and development. We applied systems mapping to analyze biomass growth data in a mapping population of soybeans and identified specific loci that are responsible for the dynamics of biomass partitioning to leaves, stem, and roots.Conclusions: We show that systems mapping implemented by design principles of biological systems is quite versatile for deciphering the genetic machineries for size-shape, structural-functional, sink-source and pleiotropic relationships underlying plant physiology and development. Systems mapping should enable geneticists to shed light on the genetic complexity of any biological system in plants and other organisms and predict its physiological and pathological states.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number84
JournalBMC systems biology
StatePublished - May 27 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Structural Biology
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Molecular Biology
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Applied Mathematics


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