Theoretical analyses have demonstrated a potential role for epistasis in many of the most important processes in evolution. These analyses generally assume that an individual's genes map directly to its phenotype and epistasis results from interactions among loci that contribute to the same biochemical or developmental pathways (termed physiological, or within-genotype, epistasis). For many characters, particularly those expressed early in life, an individual's phenotype may also be affected by genes expressed by its parents. The presence of these parental effects allows for interactions between the genes present in the parental and offspring genomes. When the phenotypic effect of a locus in the offspring depends on the alleles possessed by its parents, genotype-by-genotype, or among-genotype, epistasis occurs. The among-genotype epistasis resulting from parental effects may contribute to ruggedness of adaptive landscapes because early mortality often accounts for much of the variance in fitness in populations. To demonstrate how parent-offspring interactions can result in among-genotype epistasis, I use a two-locus model, with one maternal effect locus and one direct effect locus, each with two alleles. Dynamical equations are presented for the two-locus model and are directly contrasted with the dynamical equations derived for a model for physiological epistasis. The relationship between the evolutionary dynamics resulting from these two forms of epistasis is discussed. Three scenarios are presented to illustrate systems in which maternal-offspring, genotype-by-genotype epistasis may occur. The implications of maternal-offspring epistasis for quantitative-trait-loci studies are also discussed.
Editor: T. Mousseau