Background: Genomic evaluations in Holstein dairy cattle have quickly become more reliable over the last two years in many countries as more animals have been genotyped for 50,000 markers. Evaluations can also include animals genotyped with more or fewer markers using new tools such as the 777,000 or 2,900 marker chips recently introduced for cattle. Gains from more markers can be predicted using simulation, whereas strategies to use fewer markers have been compared using subsets of actual genotypes. The overall cost of selection is reduced by genotyping most animals at less than the highest density and imputing their missing genotypes using haplotypes. Algorithms to combine different densities need to be efficient because numbers of genotyped animals and markers may continue to grow quickly.
Methods: Genotypes for 500,000 markers were simulated for the 33,414 Holsteins that had 50,000 marker genotypes in the North American database. Another 86,465 non-genotyped ancestors were included in the pedigree file, and linkage disequilibrium was generated directly in the base population. Mixed density datasets were created by keeping 50,000 (every tenth) of the markers for most animals. Missing genotypes were imputed using a combination of population haplotyping and pedigree haplotyping. Reliabilities of genomic evaluations using linear and nonlinear methods were compared.
Results: Differing marker sets for a large population were combined with just a few hours of computation. About 95% of paternal alleles were determined correctly, and > 95% of missing genotypes were called correctly. Reliability of breeding values was already high (84.4%) with 50,000 simulated markers. The gain in reliability from increasing the number of markers to 500,000 was only 1.6%, but more than half of that gain resulted from genotyping just 1,406 young bulls at higher density. Linear genomic evaluations had reliabilities 1.5% lower than the nonlinear evaluations with 50,000 markers and 1.6% lower with 500,000 markers.
Conclusions: Methods to impute genotypes and compute genomic evaluations were affordable with many more markers. Reliabilities for individual animals can be modified to reflect success of imputation. Breeders can improve reliability at lower cost by combining marker densities to increase both the numbers of markers and animals included in genomic evaluation. Larger gains are expected from increasing the number of animals than the number of markers.