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Original Research ARTICLE Provisionally accepted The full-text will be published soon. Notify me

Front. Genet. | doi: 10.3389/fgene.2019.01048

The genetic architecture of bovine telomere length in early-life and association with animal fitness

 Joanna J. Ilska-Warner1, 2,  Androniki Psifidi2, 3, Luise A. Seeker1, 4,  Rachael V. Wilbourn5, Sarah L. Underwood5, Jennifer Fairlie5,  Bruce Whitelaw2, Daniel H. Nussey5, Mike P. Coffey1 and  Georgios Banos1, 2*
  • 1Scotland's Rural College, United Kingdom
  • 2Roslin Institute, University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom
  • 3Royal Veterinary College (RVC), United Kingdom
  • 4MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine (CRM), University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom
  • 5School of Biological Sciences, University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom

Health and survival are key goals for selective breeding in farm animals. Progress, however, is often limited by the low heritability of these animal fitness traits in addition to measurement difficulties. In this respect, relevant early-life biomarkers may be useful for breeding purposes. Telomere length (TL), measured in leukocytes, is a good candidate biomarker since TL has been associated with health, ageing and stress in humans and other species. However, telomere studies are very limited in farm animals. Here we examined the genetic background, genomic architecture and factors affecting bovine TL measurements in early life, and the association of the latter with animal fitness traits expressed later in life associated with survival, longevity, health and reproduction. We studied two TL measurements, one at birth (TLB) and another during the first lactation (TLFL) of a cow. We performed a genome-wide association study of dairy cattle TL, the first in a non-human species, and found that TLB and TLFL are complex, polygenic, moderately heritable and highly correlated traits. However, genomic associations with distinct chromosomal regions were identified for the two traits suggesting that their genomic architecture is not identical. This is reflected in changes in TL throughout an individual’s life. TLB had a significant association with survival, length of productive life and future health status of the animal, and could be potentially used as an early-life biomarker for disease predisposition and longevity in dairy cattle.

Keywords: Longevity, animal fitness, GWAS, Genetic parameter, bovine, telomere length

Received: 25 Jun 2019; Accepted: 30 Sep 2019.

Copyright: © 2019 Ilska-Warner, Psifidi, Seeker, Wilbourn, Underwood, Fairlie, Whitelaw, Nussey, Coffey and Banos. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Prof. Georgios Banos, Scotland's Rural College, Edinburgh, EH9 3JG, Scotland, United Kingdom, georgios.banos@sruc.ac.uk