Most current statistical methods developed for mapping quantitative trait loci (QTL) based on inbred line designs apply to crosses from two inbred lines. Analysis of QTL in these crosses is restricted by the parental genetic differences between lines. Crosses from multiple inbred lines or multiple families are common in plant and animal breeding programmes, and can be used to increase the efficiency of a QTL mapping study. A general statistical method using mixture model procedures and the EM algorithm is developed for mapping QTL from various cross designs of multiple inbred lines. The general procedure features three cross design matrices, W, that define the contribution of parental lines to a particular cross and a genetic design matrix, D, that specifies the genetic model used in multiple line crosses. By appropriately specifying W matrices, the statistical method can be applied to various cross designs, such as diallel, factorial, cyclic, parallel or arbitrary-pattern cross designs with two or multiple parental lines. Also, with appropriate specification for the D matrix, the method can be used to analyse different kinds of cross populations, such as F2 backcross, four-way cross and mixed crosses (e.g. combining backcross and F2). Simulation studies were conducted to explore the properties of the method, and confirmed its applicability to diverse experimental designs.
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