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      Is structural equation modeling advantageous for the genetic improvement of multiple traits?

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          Abstract

          Structural equation models (SEMs) are multivariate specifications capable of conveying causal relationships among traits. Although these models offer insights into how phenotypic traits relate to each other, it is unclear whether and how they can improve multiple-trait selection. Here, we explored concepts involved in SEMs, seeking for benefits that could be brought to breeding programs, relative to the standard multitrait model (MTM) commonly used. Genetic effects pertaining to SEMs and MTMs have distinct meanings. In SEMs, they represent genetic effects acting directly on each trait, without mediation by other traits in the model; in MTMs they express overall genetic effects on each trait, equivalent to lumping together direct and indirect genetic effects discriminated by SEMs. However, in breeding programs the goal is selecting candidates that produce offspring with best phenotypes, regardless of how traits are causally associated, so overall additive genetic effects are the matter. Thus, no information is lost in standard settings by using MTM-based predictions, even if traits are indeed causally associated. Nonetheless, causal information allows predicting effects of external interventions. One may be interested in predictions for scenarios where interventions are performed, e.g., artificially defining the value of a trait, blocking causal associations, or modifying their magnitudes. We demonstrate that with information provided by SEMs, predictions for these scenarios are possible from data recorded under no interventions. Contrariwise, MTMs do not provide information for such predictions. As livestock and crop production involves interventions such as management practices, SEMs may be advantageous in many settings.

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          Most cited references 19

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          The Statistical Implications of a System of Simultaneous Equations

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            Multiple Trait Evaluation Using Relatives' Records

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              Quantitative genetic models for describing simultaneous and recursive relationships between phenotypes.

              Multivariate models are of great importance in theoretical and applied quantitative genetics. We extend quantitative genetic theory to accommodate situations in which there is linear feedback or recursiveness between the phenotypes involved in a multivariate system, assuming an infinitesimal, additive, model of inheritance. It is shown that structural parameters defining a simultaneous or recursive system have a bearing on the interpretation of quantitative genetic parameter estimates (e.g., heritability, offspring-parent regression, genetic correlation) when such features are ignored. Matrix representations are given for treating a plethora of feedback-recursive situations. The likelihood function is derived, assuming multivariate normality, and results from econometric theory for parameter identification are adapted to a quantitative genetic setting. A Bayesian treatment with a Markov chain Monte Carlo implementation is suggested for inference and developed. When the system is fully recursive, all conditional posterior distributions are in closed form, so Gibbs sampling is straightforward. If there is feedback, a Metropolis step may be embedded for sampling the structural parameters, since their conditional distributions are unknown. Extensions of the model to discrete random variables and to nonlinear relationships between phenotypes are discussed.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Genetics
                Genetics
                Genetics Society of America
                1943-2631
                0016-6731
                Jul 2013
                : 194
                : 3
                Affiliations
                [1 ] Department of Animal Sciences, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA. bvalente@wisc.edu
                Article
                genetics.113.151209
                10.1534/genetics.113.151209
                3697964
                23608193

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