Prediction of complex trait phenotypes in the presence of unknown gene action is an ongoing challenge in animals, plants, and humans. Development of flexible predictive models that perform well irrespective of genetic and environmental architectures is desirable. Methods that can address non-additive variation in a non-explicit manner are gaining attention for this purpose and, in particular, semi-parametric kernel-based methods have been applied to diverse datasets, mostly providing encouraging results. On the other hand, the gains obtained from these methods have been smaller when smoothed values such as estimated breeding value (EBV) have been used as response variables. However, less emphasis has been placed on the choice of phenotypes to be used in kernel-based whole-genome prediction. This study aimed to evaluate differences between semi-parametric and parametric approaches using two types of response variables and molecular markers as inputs. Pre-corrected phenotypes (PCP) and EBV obtained for dairy cow health traits were used for this comparison. We observed that non-additive genetic variances were major contributors to total genetic variances in PCP, whereas additivity was the largest contributor to variability of EBV, as expected. Within the kernels evaluated, non-parametric methods yielded slightly better predictive performance across traits relative to their additive counterparts regardless of the type of response variable used. This reinforces the view that non-parametric kernels aiming to capture non-linear relationships between a panel of SNPs and phenotypes are appealing for complex trait prediction. However, like past studies, the gain in predictive correlation was not large for either PCP or EBV. We conclude that capturing non-additive genetic variation, especially epistatic variation, in a cross-validation framework remains a significant challenge even when it is important, as seems to be the case for health traits in dairy cows.
Keywords: dairy cow; genetic variance; kernel method; non-additive effect; whole-genome prediction.