Genome-wide association studies of parasite resistance, productivity and immunology traits in Scottish Blackface sheep

A Pacheco*, G Banos, N Lambe, A McLaren, T N McNeilly, J Conington

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Gastrointestinal parasitism represents a global problem for grazing ruminants, which can be addressed sustainably by breeding animals to be more resistant against infection by parasites. The aim of this study was to assess the genetic architecture underlying traits associated with gastrointestinal parasite resistance, immunological profile and production in meat sheep, and identify and characterise candidate genes affecting these traits. Data on gastrointestinal parasite infection (faecal egg counts for Strongyles (FECS) and Nematodirus (FECN) and faecal oocyst counts for Coccidia, along with faecal soiling scores (DAG), characterised by the accumulation of faeces around the perineum) and production (live weight (LWT)) were gathered from a flock Scottish Blackface lambs at three and four months of age. Data on the immune profile were also collected from a subset of these lambs at two and five months of age. Immune traits included the production of Interferon-γ (IFN-γ), Interleukin (IL)-4 and IL-10 following stimulation of whole blood with pokeweed mitogen (PWM) or antigen from the gastric parasite Teladorsagia circumcincta (T-ci), and serum levels of T. circumcincta-specific immunoglobulin A (IgA). Animals were genotyped with genome-wide DNA arrays, and a total of 1 766 animals and 45 827 Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs) were retained following quality control and imputation. Genome-wide association studies were performed for 24 traits. The effects of individual markers with significant effects were estimated, and the genotypic effect solutions were used to estimate additive and dominance effects, and the proportion of additive genetic variance attributed to each SNP locus. A total of 15 SNPs were associated at least at a suggestive level with FECS, FECN, DAG, IgA, PWM-induced IFN-γ and IL-4, and T-ci-induced IL-10. This study uncovered 52 genes closely related to immune function in proximity to these SNPs. A number of genes encoding C-type lectins and killer cell lectin-like family members were close to a SNP associated with FECN, while several genes encoding IL-1 cytokine family members were found to be associated with IgA. Potential candidate genes belonging to or in close proximity with the Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) were revealed, including Homeostatic Iron Regulator and butyrophilin coding genes associated with IFN-γ(PWM), and IL-17 coding genes associated with IgA. Due to the importance of the MHC in the control of immune responses, these genes may play an important role in resistance to parasitic infections. Our results reveal a largely complex and polygenic genetic profile of the studied traits in this Scottish Blackface sheep population.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101069
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
Issue number2
Early online date22 Jan 2024
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2024

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Breeding
  • Gastrointestinal parasites
  • Genomic analysis
  • Immunity
  • Sheep


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