GVCBLUP: a computer package for genomic prediction and variance component estimation of additive and dominance effects
© Wang et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2014
Received: 12 February 2014
Accepted: 30 July 2014
Published: 9 August 2014
Dominance effect may play an important role in genetic variation of complex traits. Full featured and easy-to-use computing tools for genomic prediction and variance component estimation of additive and dominance effects using genome-wide single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) markers are necessary to understand dominance contribution to a complex trait and to utilize dominance for selecting individuals with favorable genetic potential.
The GVCBLUP package is a shared memory parallel computing tool for genomic prediction and variance component estimation of additive and dominance effects using genome-wide SNP markers. This package currently has three main programs (GREML_CE, GREML_QM, and GCORRMX) and a graphical user interface (GUI) that integrates the three main programs with an existing program for the graphical viewing of SNP additive and dominance effects (GVCeasy). The GREML_CE and GREML_QM programs offer complementary computing advantages with identical results for genomic prediction of breeding values, dominance deviations and genotypic values, and for genomic estimation of additive and dominance variances and heritabilities using a combination of expectation-maximization (EM) algorithm and average information restricted maximum likelihood (AI-REML) algorithm. GREML_CE is designed for large numbers of SNP markers and GREML_QM for large numbers of individuals. Test results showed that GREML_CE could analyze 50,000 individuals with 400 K SNP markers and GREML_QM could analyze 100,000 individuals with 50K SNP markers. GCORRMX calculates genomic additive and dominance relationship matrices using SNP markers. GVCeasy is the GUI for GVCBLUP integrated with an existing software tool for the graphical viewing of SNP effects and a function for editing the parameter files for the three main programs.
The GVCBLUP package is a powerful and versatile computing tool for assessing the type and magnitude of genetic effects affecting a phenotype by estimating whole-genome additive and dominance heritabilities, for genomic prediction of breeding values, dominance deviations and genotypic values, for calculating genomic relationships, and for research and education in genomic prediction and estimation.
KeywordsGVCBLUP Genomic selection Variance component Heritability BLUP
Genomic prediction using genome-wide single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) has become a powerful approach to capture genetic effects dispersed over the genome for predicting an individual’s genetic potential of a phenotype [1–3]. Genomic estimation of variance components using genome-wide SNP markers is a powerful tool for estimating the genetic contribution of the whole-genome to a phenotype and for addressing the missing heritability problem where a large number of causal variants explained only a small fraction of the phenotypic variation. Dominance effects of quantitative traits are measured as the deviation of the mean value of the heterozygote genotype of individuals from the averages of the two alternative homozygous genotypes [4, 5]. The inclusion of dominance in the prediction model may improve the accuracy of genomic prediction when dominance effects are present [6–9]. However, currently available software packages for genomic prediction and variance component estimation either are designed for additive effects only (GCTA ), or require users to prepare a dominance-specific file to estimate dominance effects (BLR or BGLR , GenSel , DMU , BLUPF90 ). User-friendliness of the computing tool affects the efficiency of data analysis for genomic prediction and estimation. In order to fill these gaps, we implement two computationally complementary computing strategies with identical results and various definitions of genomic relationships in the GVCBLUP package that has a wide-range of flexibility and functionality for broad applicability of genomic prediction and estimation of additive and dominance effects.
GVCBLUP currently has three main programs and a graphical user interface (GUI) named GVCeasy that integrates the three main programs with an existing program for graphical viewing of SNP effects. The three main programs are GREML_CE, GREML_QM, and GCORRMX, which are developed using shared memory parallel computing technology. GVCeasy supplies users a user-friendly platform to run GVCBLUP.
Two complementary computing strategies
where Z1 = ZTα and Z2 = ZTδ. Computing difficulty is the V−1 and P = V−1 − V−1X(X’V−1X)−X’V−1 for the CE set of Equations 1–2 and is the inverse of the coefficient matrix of the mixed model equations after absorbing fixed non-genetic effects (to be denoted by C−1) for the QM set of Equations 3–4. The CE set has the best potential for using large numbers of SNP markers because the size of the V−1 and P matrices is determined by the number of individuals (assuming one observation per individual) and does not change for different numbers of SNPs. Similarly, the QM set has the best potential for using large numbers of individuals because the size of the C−1 matrix is determined by the number of SNP markers and does not change for different numbers of individuals.
EM-REML and AI-REML
Two algorithms for restricted maximum likelihood (REML) estimation of variance components are implemented in both GREML_CE and GREML_QM: EM type algorithm (EM-REML) and AI-REML algorithm . AI-REML generally is much faster than EM-REML but is not as robust as EM-REML and may be sensitive to initial values of variance components in the iterations. We require at least two iterations of EM-REML and the user may specify a larger number of EM-REML iterations to produce better initial values of variance components than the user provided initial values before switching to AI-REML. When AI-REML yields a negative estimate for any of the variance component estimates, the program automatically returns to EM-REML, which yields non-negative estimates of variance components. This strategy is designed to guarantee GREML_CE and GREML_QM estimates of variance components to be positive.
Shared memory parallel computing
GVCBLUP is programmed in C++ language using Eigen  and Intel Math Kernel libraries (MKL) . Eigen is a C++ template library for linear algebra, supports large dense and sparse matrices and supplies easy-to-use coding expression for linear algebra. Intel MKL provides BLAS and LAPACK linear algebra routines and is optimized for Intel processors with multiple cores by using shared memory parallel computing technology, which is used for dense matrix inversion including V−1 and C−1 as well as dense matrix multiplications involving those two matrices in GVCBLUP.
Calculation and graphical viewing of SNP effects and heritabilities
where = phenotypic variance, = total additive heritability of all SNP markers, and = total dominance heritability of all SNP markers. The output file for the SNP effects and heritabilities of Equations 5-9 is designed such that the SNP effects and heritability estimates can be directly used as the input file for graphing and graphical viewing by SNPEVG2 .
Simulated test data
Two simulated datasets are supplied in GVCBLUP package for testing purpose. One data set (dataset_1) has 1000 genotyped individuals with 3000 SNP markers and the other (dataset_2) has 3000 genotyped individuals with 1000 SNP markers. The parameter files to run GVCBLUP programs for the simulated datasets are also included in the package. These simulated data are designed for GVCBLUP exercises and for showing the complementary advantages of the CE and QM sets of formulations. Users interested in GVCBLUP exercises using large datasets could use a publically available swine dataset with over 45,000 SNP markers on 3534 individuals  that was used for comparing GREML estimates by GVCBLUP with the corresponding REML estimates using pedigree relations .
Results and discussion
GREML_CE and GREML_QM programs
Computing time (seconds) using GREML_CE and GREML_QM for simulated datasets 1
q = 1000, m = 3000 (Dataset_1)
q = 3000, m = 1000 (Dataset_2)
Time for SNP input, Ag and Dg
Time per iteration
Number of iteration
Capacity and speed of GVCBLUP for genomic estimation of additive, dominance and residual variances (tolerance = 10 −8 ) and ItascaSB supercomputer
Number of individuals (q)
Number of SNP markers (m)
Time for SNP input, Ag and Dg
Time per iteration
Number of iteration
Comparison of iteration numbers of EM-REML and AI-REML (tolerance = 10 −8 ) using simulated data with different heritability levels
h α 2 = 0.0, h δ 2 = 0.0
h α 2 = 0.3, h δ 2 = 0.3
In addition to the tests in Table 1 using the simulation datasets we provide with the GVCBLUP package, GREML_CE and GREML_QM programs were extensively evaluated using simulation data under various assumptions, and the GREML estimates were compared to the REML estimates of additive heritabilities of five traits using pedigree relationships in a publically available swine dataset of 3534 pigs with the 60 K SNP data . GREML and GBLUP generally were able to capture small additive and dominance effects that each accounted for 0.00005-0.0003 of the phenotypic variance and GREML was able to differentiate true additive and dominance heritability levels . The inclusion of dominance in the prediction model resulted in improved accuracy of genomic prediction , and the genomic models with additive and dominance effects were more accurate for the estimation of variance components than their pedigree-based counterparts . In a study of trout propensity to migrate, genomic-predicted additive effects completely separated migratory and nonmigratory fish in the wild population with 95.5% additive heritability and 4.5% dominance heritability, whereas genomic-predicted dominance effects achieved such complete separation in the dam-blocked population with 0% additive heritability and 39.3% dominance heritability , showing the importance to account for the exact effect type in the prediction model.
The GCORRMX program is designed to calculate measures of genomic similarities among individuals. This program currently calculates the A g and D g matrices for six definitions . An example of the GCORRMX output files is given in Additional file 1: Supplementary output files.
GVCeasy: Graphical user interface (GUI) for GVCBLUP
The GVCBLUP package is a powerful and user friendly computing tool for assessing the type and magnitude of genetic effects affecting a phenotype by estimating whole-genome additive and dominance heritabilities of a phenotype using genome-wide SNP markers, is a full featured computing tool for genomic prediction of breeding values, dominance deviations and genotypic values for both training and validation data sets, and provides an important computing utility for research and education in the area of genomic prediction and estimation.
Availability and requirements
Project name: GVCBLUP
Project home page: http://animalgene.umn.edu/
Operating system(s): Windows, Linux and Mac OS X
Programming language: C++, Java
Single nucleotide polymorphism
Best unbiased linear prediction
Restricted maximum likelihood estimation
Average information REML
Graphical user interface
Mixed model equations.
This research was supported by USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture Grant no. 2011-67015-30333 and by project MN-16-043 of the Agricultural Experiment Station at the University of Minnesota. Supercomputer computing time was provided by the Minnesota Supercomputer Institute at the University of Minnesota and by the Research Computing Center at The University of Chicago.
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