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Genomic analysis of the slope of the reaction norm for body weight in Australian sheep
Genetics Selection Evolution  (IF5.1),  Pub Date : 2022-06-03, DOI: 10.1186/s12711-022-00734-6
Waters, Dominic L., Clark, Sam A., Moghaddar, Nasir, van der Werf, Julius H.

Selection of livestock based on their robustness or sensitivity to environmental variation could help improve the efficiency of production systems, particularly in the light of climate change. Genetic variation in robustness arises from genotype-by-environment (G × E) interactions, with genotypes performing differently when animals are raised in contrasted environments. Understanding the nature of this genetic variation is essential to implement strategies to improve robustness. In this study, our aim was to explore the genetics of robustness in Australian sheep to different growth environments using linear reaction norm models (RNM), with post-weaning weight records of 22,513 lambs and 60 k single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). The use of scale-corrected genomic estimated breeding values (GEBV) for the slope to account for scale-type G × E interactions was also investigated. Additive genetic variance was observed for the slope of the RNM, with genetic correlations between low- and high-growth environments indicating substantial re-ranking of genotypes (0.44–0.49). The genetic variance increased from low- to high-growth environments. The heritability of post-weaning body weight ranged from 0.28 to 0.39. The genetic correlation between intercept and slope of the reaction norm for post-weaning body weight was low to moderate when based on the estimated (co)variance components but was much higher when based on back-solved SNP effects. An initial analysis suggested that a region on chromosome 11 affected both the intercept and the slope, but when the GEBV for the slope were conditioned on the GEBV for the intercept to remove the effect of scale-type G × E interactions on SNP effects for robustness, a single genomic region on chromosome 7 was found to be associated with robustness. This region included genes previously associated with growth traits and disease susceptibility in livestock. This study shows a significant genetic variation in the slope of RNM that could be used for selecting for increased robustness of sheep. Both scale-type and rank-type G × E interactions contributed to variation in the slope. The correction for scale effects of GEBV for the slope should be considered when analysing robustness using RNM. Overall, robustness appears to be a highly polygenic trait.