Genotype-phenotype relations are usually inferred from a deterministic point of view. For example, quantitative trait loci (QTL), which describe regions of the genome associated with a particular phenotype, are based on a mean trait difference between genotype categories. However, living systems comprise huge numbers of cells (the 'particles' of biology). Each cell can exhibit substantial phenotypic individuality, which can have dramatic consequences at the organismal level. Now, with technology capable of interrogating individual cells, it is time to consider how genotypes shape the probability laws of single cell traits. The possibility of mapping single cell probabilistic trait loci (PTL), which link genomic regions to probabilities of cellular traits, is a promising step in this direction. This approach requires thinking about phenotypes in probabilistic terms, a concept that statistical physicists have been applying to particles for a century. Here, I describe PTL and discuss their potential to enlarge our understanding of genotype-phenotype relations.
Keywords: GWAS; QTL; complex traits; probabilistic trait locus (PTL); single cell; stochasticity.
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