Background: For ruminants reared on grazing systems, gastrointestinal nematode (GIN) parasite infections represent the class of diseases with the greatest impact on animal health and productivity. Among the many possible strategies for controlling GIN infection, the enhancement of host resistance through the selection of resistant animals has been suggested by many authors. Because of the difficulty of routinely collecting phenotypic indicators of parasite resistance, information derived from molecular markers may be used to improve the efficiency of classical genetic breeding.
Methods: A total of 181 microsatellite markers evenly distributed along the 26 sheep autosomes were used in a genome scan analysis performed in a commercial population of Spanish Churra sheep to detect chromosomal regions associated with parasite resistance. Following a daughter design, we analysed 322 ewes distributed in eight half-sib families. The phenotypes studied included two faecal egg counts (LFEC0 and LFEC1), anti-Teladorsagia circumcincta LIV IgA levels (IgA) and serum pepsinogen levels (Peps).
Results: The regression analysis revealed one QTL at the 5% genome-wise significance level on chromosome 6 for LFEC1 within the marker interval BM4621-CSN3. This QTL was found to be segregating in three out of the eight families analysed. Four other QTL were identified at the 5% chromosome-wise level on chromosomes 1, 10 and 14. Three of these QTL influenced faecal egg count, and the other one had an effect on IgA levels.
Conclusion: This study has successfully identified segregating QTL for parasite resistance traits in a commercial population. For some of the QTL detected, we have identified interesting coincidences with QTL previously reported in sheep, although most of those studies have been focused on young animals. Some of these coincidences might indicate that some common underlying loci affect parasite resistance traits in different sheep breeds. The identification of new QTL may suggest the existence of complex host-parasite relationships that have unique features depending on the host-parasite combination, perhaps due to the different mechanisms underlying resistance in adult sheep (hypersensitivity reactions) and lambs (immunity). The most significant QTL identified on chromosome 6 for LFEC(1) may be the target for future fine-mapping research efforts.