Expected Effects on Protein Yield of Marker-Assisted Selection at Quantitative Trait Loci Affecting Milk Yield and Milk Protein Percentage

J Dairy Sci. 2008 Jul;91(7):2857-63. doi: 10.3168/jds.2008-1011.


Protein yield (PY) is currently the major economic product of the dairy herd. Genome-wide scans for quantitative trait loci (QTL) affecting milk yield (MY) and milk protein percentage (PP) suggest that of the loci affecting the 2 traits, about 1/4 exclusively affect MY, 1/4 exclusively affect PP, and half affect both traits. Because PY is the product of MY and PP, it is of interest to evaluate the expected effects on PY of marker-assisted selection (MAS) applied to these 3 classes of QTL. It is clear that selection for the appropriate allele at QTL exclusively affecting MY or PP will have a positive effect on PY. The question arises as to the effect of MAS directed at QTL affecting both MY and PP. Because the observed genetic correlation of about -0.5 between MY and PP must be generated by these loci, and because they comprise about half the total number of loci affecting the 2 traits, it can be inferred that the genetic correlation between MY and PP at loci affecting both traits is close to -1.0. This seems to imply that generally such loci would be neutral in their effects on PY. In the present study, biometrical expressions originally developed to describe the relationships of MY, fat percentage, and fat yield were adapted to describe the relationships of MY, PP, and PY. The resultant expressions were validated by showing that they correctly predicted the observed phenotypic standard deviation and heritability of PY, and the vastly different genetic correlations of PY with MY (very high positive) and of PY with PP (very low positive). Contrary to initial impressions, further biometrical analysis of the projected effects on PY of MAS at the loci affecting both traits, showed that even under the assumption that the genetic correlation between MY and PP at these loci is -1.0, selection for the allele favoring MY will have a strong positive effect on PY, whereas selection for the allele favoring PP will have an equal but opposite negative effect on PY. These diametrically opposed effects are due to the lower genetic coefficient variation of PP compared with MY. It is speculated that the reduced coefficient of variation of PP may be because of more stringent homeostatic buffering of milk composition compared with milk yield.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alleles
  • Animals
  • Cattle* / genetics
  • Cattle* / physiology
  • Female
  • Genetic Markers
  • Genetic Variation
  • Lactation / genetics*
  • Lipids / analysis
  • Milk / chemistry*
  • Milk / metabolism*
  • Milk Proteins / analysis*
  • Quantitative Trait Loci*
  • Selection, Genetic


  • Genetic Markers
  • Lipids
  • Milk Proteins