Data and theory point to mainly additive genetic variance for complex traits

William G. Hill, Michael E. Goddard, Peter M. Visscher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The relative proportion of additive and non-additive variation for complex traits is important in evolutionary biology, medicine, and agriculture. We address a long-standing controversy and paradox about the contribution of non-additive genetic variation, namely that knowledge about biological pathways and gene networks imply that epistasis is important. Yet empirical data across a range of traits and species imply that most genetic variance is additive. We evaluate the evidence from empirical studies of genetic variance components and find that additive variance typically accounts for over half, and often close to 100%, of the total genetic variance. We present new theoretical results, based upon the distribution of allele frequencies under neutral and other population genetic models, that show why this is the case even if there are nonadditive effects at the level of gene action. We conclude that interactions at the level of genes are not likely to generate much interaction at the level of variance.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1000008
Pages (from-to)-
Number of pages10
JournalPLoS Genetics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2008


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