One of the central goals in biology is to understand how and how much of the phenotype of an organism is encoded in its genome. Although many genes that are crucial for organismal processes have been identified, much less is known about the genetic bases underlying quantitative phenotypic differences in natural populations. We discuss the fundamental gap between the large body of knowledge generated over the past decades by experimental genetics in the laboratory and what is needed to understand the genotype-to-phenotype problem on a broader scale. We argue that systems genetics, a combination of systems biology and the study of natural variation using quantitative genetics, will help to address this problem. We present major advances in these two mostly disconnected areas that have increased our understanding of the developmental processes of flowering time control and root growth. We conclude by illustrating and discussing the efforts that have been made toward systems genetics specifically in plants.
Keywords: Arabidopsis; genotype to phenotype; natural variation; plants; systems biology; systems genetics.