Network analysis identifies ELF3 as a QTL for the shade avoidance response in Arabidopsis

PLoS Genet. 2010 Sep 9;6(9):e1001100. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1001100.


Quantitative Trait Loci (QTL) analyses in immortal populations are a powerful method for exploring the genetic mechanisms that control interactions of organisms with their environment. However, QTL analyses frequently do not culminate in the identification of a causal gene due to the large chromosomal regions often underlying QTLs. A reasonable approach to inform the process of causal gene identification is to incorporate additional genome-wide information, which is becoming increasingly accessible. In this work, we perform QTL analysis of the shade avoidance response in the Bayreuth-0 (Bay-0, CS954) x Shahdara (Sha, CS929) recombinant inbred line population of Arabidopsis. We take advantage of the complex pleiotropic nature of this trait to perform network analysis using co-expression, eQTL and functional classification from publicly available datasets to help us find good candidate genes for our strongest QTL, SAR2. This novel network analysis detected EARLY FLOWERING 3 (ELF3; AT2G25930) as the most likely candidate gene affecting the shade avoidance response in our population. Further genetic and transgenic experiments confirmed ELF3 as the causative gene for SAR2. The Bay-0 and Sha alleles of ELF3 differentially regulate developmental time and circadian clock period length in Arabidopsis, and the extent of this regulation is dependent on the light environment. This is the first time that ELF3 has been implicated in the shade avoidance response and that different natural alleles of this gene are shown to have phenotypic effects. In summary, we show that development of networks to inform candidate gene identification for QTLs is a promising technique that can significantly accelerate the process of QTL cloning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / genetics*
  • Arabidopsis / genetics*
  • Arabidopsis / growth & development
  • Arabidopsis / physiology*
  • Arabidopsis Proteins / genetics*
  • Circadian Rhythm / genetics
  • Crosses, Genetic
  • Gene Regulatory Networks / genetics*
  • Genetic Complementation Test
  • Inbreeding
  • Phenotype
  • Physical Chromosome Mapping
  • Quantitative Trait Loci / genetics*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Time Factors
  • Transcription Factors / genetics*


  • Arabidopsis Proteins
  • ELF3 protein, Arabidopsis
  • Transcription Factors