BACKGROUND: The identification of loci associated with resistance to mastitis or of the causative mutations may be helpful in breeding programs for dairy sheep as it is for cattle worldwide. Seven genomic regions that control milk somatic cell counts, an indirect indicator of udder infection, have already been identified in sheep (Spanish Churra, French Lacaune and Italian Sardinian-Lacaune backcross populations). In this study, we used a 960 custom-designed ovine single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) chip in Lacaune and Manech Tête Rousse dairy sheep to validate these seven genomic regions associated with mastitis.
RESULTS: The most significant SNP (rs868996547) on Ovis aries chromosome (OAR) 3 was a previously described mutation in the suppressor of cytokine signalling 2 (SOCS2) gene. An antagonist effect of this causal candidate between health and growth in Lacaune sheep was confirmed. Effects of the mutation on the infectious status of the udder, i.e. increases in milk somatic cell counts and bacteria shedding, were also identified. This SNP was not present in the data available on Manech Tête Rousse. Three other regions associated with mastitis were also confirmed on OAR16 (Manech Tête Rousse), 19 (Lacaune) and 2 (both breeds). For the OAR2 region, we validated previously detected SNPs in several other breeds (Sarda, Churra, and Chios). For significant SNPs in the four mastitis regions, the effect varied from 0.24 to 0.67 phenotypic standard deviation of the traits. Two of the mastitis quantitative trait loci (QTL) regions (OAR2 and 16) that we validated here were also associated in opposite ways with milk production traits in both populations.
CONCLUSIONS: These results indicate, at least in part, a genomic basis for the trade-off between milk production and mastitis resistance. Four of the seven mastitis QTL regions that were previously identified in independent populations, were confirmed in this study, which demonstrates partial sharing of mastitis-related genetic mechanisms between different distant dairy sheep populations.