Abstract / Description of output
Reliable phenotypes are paramount for meaningful quantification of genetic variation and for estimating individual breeding values on which genetic selection is based. In this paper we assert that genetic improvement of host tolerance to disease, although desirable, may be first of all handicapped by the ability to obtain unbiased tolerance estimates at a phenotypic level. In contrast to resistance, which can be inferred by appropriate measures of within host pathogen burden, tolerance is more difficult to quantify as it refers to change in performance with respect to changes in pathogen burden. For this reason, tolerance phenotypes have only been specified at the level of a group of individuals, where such phenotypes can be estimated using regression analysis. However, few studies have raised the potential bias in these estimates resulting from confounding effects between resistance and tolerance. Using a simulation approach, we demonstrate (i) how these group tolerance estimates depend on within group variation and co-variation in resistance, tolerance and vigour (performance in a pathogen free environment); and (ii) how tolerance estimates are affected by changes in pathogen virulence over the time course of infection and by the timing of measurements. We found that in order to obtain reliable group tolerance estimates, it is important to account for individual variation in vigour, if present, and that all individuals are at the same stage of infection when measurements are taken. The latter requirement makes estimation of tolerance based on cross-sectional field data challenging, as individuals become infected at different time points and the individual onset of infection is unknown. Repeated individual measurements of within host pathogen burden and performance would not only be valuable for inferring the infection status of individuals in field conditions but would also provide tolerance estimates that capture the entire time course of infection.