Genome-wide associations and functional gene analyses for endoparasite resistance in an endangered population of native German Black Pied cattle
BACKGROUND:Gastrointestinal nematodes (GIN), liver flukes (Fasciola hepatica) and bovine lungworms (Dictyocaulus viviparus) are the most important parasitic agents in pastured dairy cattle. Endoparasite infections are associated with reduced milk production and detrimental impacts on female fertility, contributing to economic losses in affected farms. In quantitative-genetic studies, the heritabilities for GIN and F. hepatica were moderate, encouraging studies on genomic scales. Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) based on dense single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) marker panels allow exploration of the underlying genomic architecture of complex disease traits. The current GWAS combined the identification of potential candidate genes with pathway analyses to obtain deeper insights into bovine immune response and the mechanisms of resistance against endoparasite infections. RESULTS:A 2-step approach was applied to infer genome-wide associations in an endangered dual-purpose cattle subpopulation [Deutsches Schwarzbuntes Niederungsrind (DSN)] with a limited number of phenotypic records. First, endoparasite traits from a population of 1166 Black and White dairy cows [including Holstein Friesian (HF) and DSN] naturally infected with GIN, F. hepatica and D. viviparus were precorrected for fixed effects using linear mixed models. Afterwards, the precorrected phenotypes were the dependent traits (rFEC-GIN, rFEC-FH, and rFLC-DV) in GWAS based on 423,654 SNPs from 148 DSN cows. We identified 44 SNPs above the genome-wide significance threshold (pBonf = 4.47 × 10- 7), and 145 associations surpassed the chromosome-wide significance threshold (range: 7.47 × 10- 6 on BTA 1 to 2.18 × 10- 5 on BTA 28). The associated SNPs identified were annotated to 23 candidate genes. The DAVID analysis inferred four pathways as being related to immune response mechanisms or involved in host-parasite interactions. SNP effect correlations considering specific chromosome segments indicate that breeding for resistance to GIN or F. hepatica as measured by fecal egg counts is genetically associated with a higher risk for udder infections. CONCLUSIONS:We detected a large number of loci with small to moderate effects for endoparasite resistance. The potential candidate genes regulating resistance identified were pathogen-specific. Genetic antagonistic associations between disease resistance and productivity were specific for specific chromosome segments. The 2-step approach was a valid methodological approach to infer genetic mechanisms in an endangered breed with a limited number of phenotypic records.