Background: Genome wide association studies (GWAS) were conducted on 7,853,211 imputed whole genome sequence variants in a population of 3354 to 3984 animals from multiple beef cattle breeds for five carcass merit traits including hot carcass weight (HCW), average backfat thickness (AFAT), rib eye area (REA), lean meat yield (LMY) and carcass marbling score (CMAR). Based on the GWAS results, genetic architectures of the carcass merit traits in beef cattle were elucidated.
Results: The distributions of DNA variant allele substitution effects approximated a bell-shaped distribution for all the traits while the distribution of additive genetic variances explained by single DNA variants conformed to a scaled inverse chi-squared distribution to a greater extent. At a threshold of P-value < 10-5, 51, 33, 46, 40, and 38 lead DNA variants on multiple chromosomes were significantly associated with HCW, AFAT, REA, LMY, and CMAR, respectively. In addition, lead DNA variants with potentially large pleiotropic effects on HCW, AFAT, REA, and LMY were found on chromosome 6. On average, missense variants, 3'UTR variants, 5'UTR variants, and other regulatory region variants exhibited larger allele substitution effects on the traits in comparison to other functional classes. The amounts of additive genetic variance explained per DNA variant were smaller for intergenic and intron variants on all the traits whereas synonymous variants, missense variants, 3'UTR variants, 5'UTR variants, downstream and upstream gene variants, and other regulatory region variants captured a greater amount of additive genetic variance per sequence variant for one or more carcass merit traits investigated. In total, 26 enriched cellular and molecular functions were identified with lipid metabolisms, small molecular biochemistry, and carbohydrate metabolism being the most significant for the carcass merit traits.
Conclusions: The GWAS results have shown that the carcass merit traits are controlled by a few DNA variants with large effects and many DNA variants with small effects. Nucleotide polymorphisms in regulatory, synonymous, and missense functional classes have relatively larger impacts per sequence variant on the variation of carcass merit traits. The genetic architecture as revealed by the GWAS will improve our understanding on genetic controls of carcass merit traits in beef cattle.
Keywords: Beef cattle; Carcass merit traits; Genetic architecture; Genome wide association studies; Imputed whole genome sequence variants.