Robust Modelling of Additive and Non-additive Variation with Intuitive Inclusion of Expert Knowledge

Ingeborg Gullikstad Hem, Maria Lie Selle, Gregor Gorjanc, Geir-Arne Fuglstad, Andrea Riebler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We propose a novel Bayesian approach that robustifies genomic modelling by leveraging expert knowledge through prior distributions. The central component is the hierarchical decomposition of phenotypic variation into additive and non-additive genetic variation, which leads to an intuitive model parameterization that can be visualised as a tree. The edges of the tree represent ratios of variances, for example broad-sense heritability, which are quantities for which expert knowledge is natural to exist. Penalized complexity priors are defined for all edges of the tree in a bottom-up procedure that respects the model structure
and incorporates expert knowledge through all levels. We investigate models with different sources of variation and compare the performance of different priors implementing varying amounts of expert knowledge in the context of plant breeding. A simulation study shows that the proposed priors implementing expert knowledge improve the robustness of genomic modelling and the
selection of the genetically best individuals in a breeding program. We observe this improvement in both variety selection on genetic values and parent selection on additive values; the variety selection benefited the most. In a real case study expert knowledge increases phenotype prediction accuracy for cases in which the standard maximum likelihood approach did not find optimal estimates for the variance components. Finally, we discuss the importance of expert knowledge priors for genomic modelling and breeding, and point to future research areas of easy-to-use and parsimonious priors in genomic modelling.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jan 2021


  • Bayesian analysis
  • expert knowledge
  • genomic selection
  • hierarchical variance decomposition
  • nonadditive genetic variation


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