The potential of shifting recombination hotspots to increase genetic gain in livestock breeding

Serap Gonen, Mara Battagin, Susan Johnston, Gregor Gorjanc, John Hickey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study uses simulation to explore and quantify the potential effect of shifting recombination hotspots on genetic gain in livestock breeding programs.
We simulated three scenarios that differed in the locations of quantitative trait nucleotides (QTN) and recombination hotspots in the genome. In scenario 1, QTN were randomly distributed along the chromosomes and recombination was restricted to occur within specific genomic regions (i.e. recombination hotspots). In the other two scenarios, both QTN and recombination hotspots were located in specific regions, but differed in whether the QTN occurred outside of (scenario 2) or inside (scenario 3) recombination hotspots. We split each chromosome into 250, 500 or 1000 regions per chromosome of which 10% were recombination hotspots and/or contained QTN. The breeding program was run for 21 generations of selection, after which recombination hotspot regions were kept the same or were shifted to adjacent regions for a further 80 generations of selection. We evaluated the effect of shifting recombination hotspots on genetic gain, genetic variance and genic variance.
Our results show that shifting recombination hotspots reduced the decline of genetic and genic variance by releasing standing allelic variation in the form of new allele combinations. This in turn resulted in larger increases in genetic gain. However, the benefit of shifting recombination hotspots for increased genetic gain was only observed when QTN were initially outside recombination hotspots. If QTN were initially inside recombination hotspots then shifting them decreased genetic gain.
Shifting recombination hotspots to regions of the genome where recombination had not occurred for 21 generations of selection (i.e. recombination deserts) released more of the standing allelic variation available in each generation and thus increased genetic gain. However, whether and how much increase in genetic gain was achieved by shifting recombination hotspots depended on the distribution of QTN in the genome, the number of recombination hotspots and whether QTN were initially inside or outside recombination hotspots.
Our findings show future scope for targeted modification of recombination hotspots e.g. through changes in zinc-finger motifs of the PRDM9 protein to increase genetic gain in production species.
Original languageEnglish
Article number55
JournalGenetics Selection Evolution
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jul 2017


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