Identifying quantitative trait loci (QTL) underlying complex, low-heritability traits is notoriously difficult. Prototypical for such traits, calving ease is an important breeding objective of cattle (Bos taurus)-improving programs. To identify QTL underlying calving ease, we performed a genome-wide association study using estimated breeding values (EBVs) as highly heritable phenotypes for paternal calving ease (pCE) and related traits. The massively structured study population consisted of 1800 bulls of the German Fleckvieh (FV) breed. Two pCE-associated regions on bovine chromosomes (BTA) 14 and 21 (P = 5.72 × 10−15 and P = 2.27 × 10−8, respectively) were identified using principal components analysis to correct for population stratification. The two most significantly associated SNPs explain 10% of the EBV variation. Since marker alleles with negative effect on pCE have positive effects on growth-related traits, the QTL may exert their effects on the birthing process through fetal growth traits. The QTL region on BTA14 corresponds to a human chromosome (HSA) region that is associated with growth characteristics. The HSA region corresponding to the BTA21 pCE QTL is maternally imprinted and involved in the Prader–Willi and Angelman syndromes. Resequencing of positional candidate genes on BTA14 revealed a highly significantly (P = 1.96 × 10−14) associated polymorphism ablating a polyadenylation signal of the gene encoding ribosomal protein S20 (RPS20). Our study demonstrates the leverage potential of EBVs in unraveling the genetic architecture of lowly heritable traits.
Supporting information is available online at http://www.genetics.org/cgi/content/full/genetics.110.124057/DC1.
Communicating editor I. Hoeschele
- Received October 11, 2010.
- Accepted November 1, 2010.
- Copyright © 2011 by the Genetics Society of America