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Genomic analyses underpin the feasibility of concomitant genetic improvement of milk yield and mastitis resistance in dairy sheep
Milk yield is the most important dairy sheep trait and constitutes the key genetic improvement goal via selective breeding. Mastitis is one of the most prevalent diseases, significantly impacting on animal welfare, milk yield and quality, while incurring substantial costs. Our objectives were to determine the feasibility of a concomitant genetic improvement programme for enhanced milk production and resistance to mastitis. Individual records for milk yield and four mastitis-related traits were collected monthly throughout lactation for 609 ewes of the Chios breed. All ewes were genotyped with a mastitis specific custom-made 960 single nucleotide polymorphism array. We performed genomic association studies, (co)variance component estimation and pathway enrichment analysis, and characterised gene expression levels and the extent of allelic expression imbalance. Presence of heritable variation for milk yield was confirmed. There was no significant genetic correlation between milk yield and mastitis. Environmental factors appeared to favour both milk production and udder health. Four Quantitative Trait Loci (QTLs) affecting milk yield were detected on chromosomes 2, 12, 16 and 19, in locations distinct from those previously identified to affect mastitis resistance. Pathways, networks and functional gene clusters for milk yield were identified. Seven genes (DNAJA1, DNAJC10, FGF10, GHR, HMGCS1, LYPLA1, OXCT1) located within the QTL regions were highly expressed in both the mammary gland and milk transcriptome, suggesting involvement in milk synthesis and production. Furthermore, the expression of four genes (DNAJC10, FGF10, OXCT1, EMB) was enriched in immune tissues implying a favourable pleiotropic effect or likely role in milk production during udder infection. In conclusion, the absence of genetic antagonism between milk yield and mastitis resistance suggests that simultaneous genetic improvement of both traits be achievable. The detection of milk yield QTLs with the mastitis array underpins the latter's utility as a breeding tool for the genetic enhancement of both traits.
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