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Title: Architecture of human complex trait variation
Author: Xin, Xiachi
ISNI:       0000 0004 7429 8057
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2018
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A complex trait is a trait or disease that is controlled by both genetic and environmental factors, along with their interactions. Trait architecture encompasses the genetic variants and environmental causes of variation in the trait or disease, their effects on the trait or disease and the mechanism by which these factors interact at molecular and organism levels. It is important to understand trait architecture both from a biological viewpoint and a health perspective. In this thesis, I laid emphasis on exploring the influence of familial environmental factors on complex trait architecture alongside the genetic components. I performed a variety of studies to explore the architecture of anthropometric and cardio-metabolic traits, such as height, body mass index, high density lipoprotein content of blood and blood pressure, using a cohort of 20,000 individuals of recent Scottish descent and their phenotype measurements, Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP) data and genealogical information. I extended a method of variance component analysis that could simultaneously estimate SNP-associated heritability and total heritability whilst considering familial environmental effects shared among siblings, couples and nuclear family members. I found that most missing heritability could be explained by including closely related individuals in the analysis and accounting for these close relationships; and that, on top of genetics, couple and sibling environmental effects are additional significant contributors to the complex trait variation investigated. Subsequently, I accounted for couple and sibling environmental effects in Genome- Wide Association Study (GWAS) and prediction models. Results demonstrated that by adding additional couple and sibling information, both GWAS performance and prediction accuracy were boosted for most traits investigated, especially for traits related to obesity. Since couple environmental effects as modelled in my study might, in fact, reflect the combined effect of assortative mating and shared couple environment, I explored further the dissection of couple effects according to their origin. I extended assortative mating theory by deriving the expected resemblance between an individual and in-laws of his first-degree relatives. Using the expected resemblance derived, I developed a novel pedigree study which could jointly estimate the heritability and the degree of assortative mating. I have shown in this thesis that, for anthropometric and cardio-metabolic traits, environmental factors shared by siblings and couples seem to have important effects on trait variation and that appropriate modelling of such effects may improve the outcome of genetic analyses and our understanding of the causes of trait variation. My thesis also points out that future studies on exploring trait architecture should not be limited to genetics because environment, as well as mate choice, might be a major contributor to trait variation, although trait architecture varies from trait to trait.
Supervisor: Haley, Christopher ; Navarro, Pau Sponsor: Medical Research Council (MRC)
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: complex traits ; body shape ; cardiovascular health ; Generation Scotland ; statistical analysis ; environmental factors ; genetics ; Genome-Wide Association Studies ; trait architecture ; disease risk prediction