Genomic selection improves response to selection in resilience by exploiting genotype by environment interactions

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Genotype by environment interactions (GxE) are very common in livestock and hamper genetic improvement. On the other hand, GxE is a source of genetic variation: genetic variation in response to environment, e.g., environmental perturbations such as heat stress or disease. In livestock breeding, there is tendency to ignore GxE because of increased complexity of models for genetic evaluations and lack of accuracy in extreme environments. GxE, however, creates opportunities to increase resilience of animals toward environmental perturbations. The main aim of the paper is to investigate to which extent GxE can be exploited with traditional and genomic selection methods. Furthermore, we investigated the benefit of reaction norm (RN) models compared to conventional methods ignoring GxE. The questions were addressed with selection index theory. GxE was modeled according to a linear RN model in which the environmental gradient is the contemporary group mean. Economic values were based on linear and non-linear profit equations. Accuracies of environment-specific (G)EBV were highest in intermediate environments and lowest in extreme environments. RN models had higher accuracies of (G)EBV in extreme environments than conventional models ignoring GxE. Genomic selection always resulted in higher response to selection in all environments than sib or progeny testing schemes. The increase in response was with genomic selection between 9 and 140% compared to sib testing and between 11 and 114% compared to progeny testing when the reference population consisted of 1 million animals across all environments. When the aim was to decrease environmental sensitivity, the response in slope of the RN model with genomic selection was between 1.09 and 319 times larger than with sib or progeny testing and in the right direction in contrast to sib and progeny testing that still increased environmental sensitivity. This shows that genomic selection with large reference populations offers great opportunities to exploit GxE to increase resilience of animals.




Mulder, H. A. (2016). Genomic selection improves response to selection in resilience by exploiting genotype by environment interactions. Frontiers in Genetics, 7(OCT).

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