Evolution of the genotype-to-phenotype map and the cost of pleiotropy in mammals

Arthur Porto, Ryan Schmelter, John L. Vandeberg, Gabriel Marroig, James M. Cheverud

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

9 Scopus citations


Evolutionary studies have long emphasized that the genetic architecture of traits holds important microevolutionary consequences. Yet, studies comparing the genetic architecture of traits across species are rare, and discussions of the evolution of genetic systems are made on theoretical arguments rather than on empirical evidence. Here, we compared the genetic architecture of cranial traits in two different mammalian model organisms: the gray short-tailed opossum, Monodelphis domestica, and the laboratory mouse, Mus musculus. We show that both organisms share a highly polygenic genetic architecture for craniofacial traits, with many loci of small effect. However, these two model species differ significantly in the overall degree of pleiotropy, N, of the genotype-tophenotype map, with opossums presenting a higher average N. They also diverge in their degree of genetic modularity, with opossums presenting less modular patterns of genetic association among traits. We argue that such differences highlight the context dependency of gene effects, with developmental systems shaping the variational properties of genetic systems. Finally, we also demonstrate based on the opossum data that current measurements for the relationship between the mutational effect size and N need to be re-evaluated in relation to the importance of the cost of pleiotropy for mammals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1601-1612
Number of pages12
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1 2016
Externally publishedYes



  • Complexity
  • Genetic architecture
  • Marsupials

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics

Cite this

Porto, A., Schmelter, R., Vandeberg, J. L., Marroig, G., & Cheverud, J. M. (2016). Evolution of the genotype-to-phenotype map and the cost of pleiotropy in mammals. Genetics, 204(4), 1601-1612. https://doi.org/10.1534/genetics.116.189431