Genome-wide associations for fertility traits in Holstein-Friesian dairy cows using data from experimental research herds in four European countries
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Genome-wide association studies for difficult-to-measure traits are generally limited by the sample population size with accurate phenotypic data. The objective of this study was to utilise data on primiparous Holstein–Friesian cows from experimental farms in Ireland, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Sweden to identify genomic regions associated with traditional measures of fertility, as well as a fertility phenotype derived from milk progesterone profiles. Traditional fertility measures investigated were days to first heat, days to first service, pregnancy rate to first service, number of services and calving interval (CI); post-partum interval to the commencement of luteal activity (CLA) was derived using routine milk progesterone assays. Phenotypic and genotypic data on 37 590 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) were available for up to 1570 primiparous cows. Genetic parameters were estimated using linear animal models, and univariate and bivariate genome-wide association analyses were undertaken using Bayesian stochastic search variable selection performed using Gibbs sampling. Heritability estimates of the traditional fertility traits varied from 0.03 to 0.16; the heritability for CLA was 0.13. The posterior quantitative trait locus (QTL) probabilities, across the genome, for the traditional fertility measures were all ,0.021. Posterior QTL probabilities of 0.060 and 0.045 were observed for CLA on SNPs each on chromosome 2 and chromosome 21, respectively, in the univariate analyses; these probabilities increased when CLA was included in the bivariate analyses with the traditional fertility traits. For example, in the bivariate analysis with CI, the posterior QTL probability of the two aforementioned SNPs were 0.662 and 0.123. Candidate genes in the vicinity of these SNPs are discussed. The results from this study suggest that the power of genome-wide association studies in cattle may be increased by sharing of data and also possibly by using physiological measures of the trait under investigation.
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