Improving feed efficiency (FE) of dairy cattle may boost farm profitability and reduce the environmental footprint of the dairy industry. Residual feed intake (RFI), a candidate FE trait in dairy cattle, can be defined to be genetically uncorrelated with major energy sink traits (e.g., milk production, body weight) by including genomic predicted transmitting ability of such traits in genetic analyses for RFI. We examined the genetic basis of RFI through genome-wide association (GWA) analyses and post-GWA enrichment analyses and identified candidate genes and biological pathways associated with RFI in dairy cattle. Data were collected from 4,823 lactations of 3,947 Holstein cows in 9 research herds in the United States. Of these cows, 3,555 were genotyped and were imputed to a high-density list of 312,614 SNP. We used a single-step GWA method to combine information from genotyped and nongenotyped animals with phenotypes as well as their ancestors' information. The estimated genomic breeding values from a single-step genomic BLUP were back-solved to obtain the individual SNP effects for RFI. The proportion of genetic variance explained by each 5-SNP sliding window was also calculated for RFI. Our GWA analyses suggested that RFI is a highly polygenic trait regulated by many genes with small effects. The closest genes to the top SNP and sliding windows were associated with dry matter intake (DMI), RFI, energy homeostasis and energy balance regulation, digestion and metabolism of carbohydrates and proteins, immune regulation, leptin signaling, mitochondrial ATP activities, rumen development, skeletal muscle development, and spermatogenesis. The region of 40.7 to 41.5 Mb on BTA25 (UMD3.1 reference genome) was the top associated region for RFI. The closest genes to this region, CARD11 and EIF3B, were previously shown to be related to RFI of dairy cattle and FE of broilers, respectively. Another candidate region, 57.7 to 58.2 Mb on BTA18, which is associated with DMI and leptin signaling, was also associated with RFI in this study. Post-GWA enrichment analyses used a sum-based marker-set test based on 4 public annotation databases: Gene Ontology, Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes (KEGG) pathways, Reactome pathways, and medical subject heading (MeSH) terms. Results of these analyses were consistent with those from the top GWA signals. Across the 4 databases, GWA signals for RFI were highly enriched in the biosynthesis and metabolism of amino acids and proteins, digestion and metabolism of carbohydrates, skeletal development, mitochondrial electron transport, immunity, rumen bacteria activities, and sperm motility. Our findings offer novel insight into the genetic basis of RFI and identify candidate regions and biological pathways associated with RFI in dairy cattle.
- dairy cow
- enrichment analysis
- feed efficiency
- genome-wide association study