An EM algorithm for mapping quantitative resistance loci

Heredity (Edinb). 2005 Jan;94(1):119-28. doi: 10.1038/sj.hdy.6800583.


Many disease resistance traits in plants have a polygenic background and the disease phenotypes are modified by environmental factors. As a consequence, the phenotypic values usually show a quantitative variation. The phenotypes of such disease traits, however, are often measured in discrete but ordered categories. These traits are called ordinal traits. In terms of disease resistance, they are called quantitative resistance traits, as opposed to qualitative resistance traits, and are controlled by the quantitative resistance loci (QRL). Classical quantitative trait locus mapping methods are not optimal for ordinal trait analysis because the assumption of normal distribution is violated. Methods for mapping binary trait loci are not suitable either because there are more than two categories in ordinal traits. We developed a maximum likelihood method to map these QRL. The method is implemented via a multicycle expectation-conditional-maximization (ECM) algorithm under the threshold model, where we can estimate both the QRL effects and the thresholds that link the disease liability and the categorical phenotype. The method is verified in simulated data under various combinations of the parameters. An SAS program is available to implement the multicycle ECM algorithm. The program can be downloaded from our website at

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Immunity, Innate / genetics*
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Plant Diseases / genetics*
  • Plant Diseases / microbiology*
  • Quantitative Trait Loci / genetics*