BACKGROUND: The development of a reliable method to predict heterosis would greatly improve the efficiency of commercial crossbreeding schemes. Extending heterosis prediction from the line level to the individual sire level would take advantage of variation between sires from the same pure line, and further increase the use of heterosis in crossbreeding schemes. We aimed at deriving the theoretical expectation for heterosis due to dominance in the crossbred offspring of individual sires, and investigating how much extra variance in heterosis can be explained by predicting heterosis at the individual sire level rather than at the line level. We used 53 421 SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism) genotypes of 3427 White Leghorn sires, allele frequencies of six White Leghorn dam-lines and cage-based records on egg number and egg weight of ~210 000 crossbred hens.
RESULTS: We derived the expected heterosis for the offspring of individual sires as the between- and within-line genome-wide heterozygosity excess in the offspring of a sire relative to the mean heterozygosity of the pure lines. Next, we predicted heterosis by regressing offspring performance on the heterozygosity excess. Predicted heterosis ranged from 7.6 to 16.7 for egg number, and from 1.1 to 2.3 grams for egg weight. Between-line differences accounted for 99.0% of the total variance in predicted heterosis, while within-line differences among sires accounted for 0.7%.
CONCLUSIONS: We show that it is possible to predict heterosis at the sire level, thus to distinguish between sires within the same pure line with offspring that show different levels of heterosis. However, based on our data, variation in genome-wide predicted heterosis between sires from the same pure line was small; most differences were observed between lines. We hypothesise that this method may work better if predictions are based on SNPs with identified dominance effects.