Combining cow and bull reference populations to increase accuracy of genomic prediction and genome-wide association studies

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Genomic selection holds the promise to be particularly beneficial for traits that are difficult or expensive to measure, such that access to phenotypes on large daughter groups of bulls is limited. Instead, cow reference populations can be generated, potentially supplemented with existing information from the same or (highly) correlated traits available on bull reference populations. The objective of this study, therefore, was to develop a model to perform genomic predictions and genome-wide association studies based on a combined cow and bull reference data set, with the accuracy of the phenotypes differing between the cow and bull genomic selection reference populations. The developed bivariate Bayesian stochastic search variable selection model allowed for an unbalanced design by imputing residuals in the residual updating scheme for all missing records. The performance of this model is demonstrated on a real data example, where the analyzed trait, being milk fat or protein yield, was either measured only on a cow or a bull reference population, or recorded on both. Our results were that the developed bivariate Bayesian stochastic search variable selection model was able to analyze 2 traits, even though animals had measurements on only 1 of 2 traits. The Bayesian stochastic search variable selection model yielded consistently higher accuracy for fat yield compared with a model without variable selection, both for the univariate and bivariate analyses, whereas the accuracy of both models was very similar for protein yield. The bivariate model identified several additional quantitative trait loci peaks compared with the single-trait models on either trait. In addition, the bivariate models showed a marginal increase in accuracy of genomic predictions for the cow traits (0.01–0.05), although a greater increase in accuracy is expected as the size of the bull population increases. Our results emphasize that the chosen value of priors in Bayesian genomic prediction models are especially important in small data sets.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6703-6715
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2013



  • nucleotide polymorphism information
  • experimental research herds
  • quantitative trait loci
  • milk-production traits
  • 4 european countries
  • friesian dairy-cows
  • selection-strategies
  • holstein cattle
  • missing-data
  • regression

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