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Using mid-infrared spectroscopy to increase GWAS power to detect QTL associated with blood urea nitrogen
Genetics Selection Evolution  (IF5.1),  Pub Date : 2022-04-18, DOI: 10.1186/s12711-022-00719-5
van den Berg, Irene, Ho, Phuong N., Nguyen, Tuan V., Haile-Mariam, Mekonnen, Luke, Timothy D. W., Pryce, Jennie E.

Blood urea nitrogen (BUN) is an indicator trait for urinary nitrogen excretion. Measuring BUN level requires a blood sample, which limits the number of records that can be obtained. Alternatively, BUN can be predicted using mid-infrared (MIR) spectroscopy of a milk sample and thus records become available on many more cows through routine milk recording processes. The genetic correlation between MIR predicted BUN (MBUN) and BUN is 0.90. Hence, genetically, BUN and MBUN can be considered as the same trait. The objective of our study was to perform genome-wide association studies (GWAS) for BUN and MBUN, compare these two GWAS and detect quantitative trait loci (QTL) for both traits, and compare the detected QTL with previously reported QTL for milk urea nitrogen (MUN). The dataset used for our analyses included 2098 and 18,120 phenotypes for BUN and MBUN, respectively, and imputed whole-genome sequence data. The GWAS for MBUN was carried out using either the full dataset, the 2098 cows with records for BUN, or 2000 randomly selected cows, so that the dataset size is comparable to that for BUN. The GWAS results for BUN and MBUN were very different, in spite of the strong genetic correlation between the two traits. We detected 12 QTL for MBUN, on bovine chromosomes 2, 3, 9, 11, 12, 14 and X, and one QTL for BUN on chromosome 13. The QTL detected on chromosomes 11, 14 and X overlapped with QTL detected for MUN. The GWAS results were highly sensitive to the subset of records used. Hence, caution is warranted when interpreting GWAS based on small datasets, such as for BUN. MBUN may provide an attractive alternative to perform a more powerful GWAS to detect QTL for BUN.