Application of genomic technologies to the horse
Corbin, Laura Jayne
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The publication of a draft equine genome sequence and the release by Illumina of a 50,000 marker single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) genotyping chip has provided equine researchers with the opportunity to use new approaches to study the relationships between genotype and phenotype. In particular, it is hoped that the use of high-density markers applied to population samples will enable progress to be made with regard to more complex diseases. The first objective of this thesis is to explore the potential for the equine SNP chip to enable such studies to be performed in the horse. The second objective is to investigate the genetic background of osteochondrosis (OC) in the horse. These objectives have been tackled using 348 Thoroughbreds from the US, divided into cases and controls, and a further 836 UK Thoroughbreds, the majority with no phenotype data. All horses had been genotyped with the Illumina Equine SNP50 BeadChip. Linkage disequilibrium (LD) is the non-random association of alleles at neighbouring loci. The reliance of many genomic methodologies on LD between neutral markers and causal variants makes it an important characteristic of genome structure. In this thesis, the genomic data has been used to study the extent of LD in the Thoroughbred and the results considered in terms of genome coverage. Results suggest that the SNP chip offers good coverage of the genome. Published theoretical relationships between LD and historical effective population size (Ne) were exploited to enable accuracy predictions for genome-wide evaluation (GWE) to be made. A subsequent in-depth exploration of this theory cast some doubt on the reliability of this approach in the estimation of Ne, but the general conclusion that the Thoroughbred population has a small Ne which should enable GWE to be carried out efficiently in this population, remains valid. In the course of these studies, possible errors embedded within the current sequence assembly were identified using empirical approaches. Osteochondrosis is a developmental orthopaedic disease which affects the joints of young horses. Osteochondrosis is considered multifactorial in origin with a variety of environmental factors and heredity having been implicated. In this thesis, a genome-wide association study was carried out to identify quantitative trait loci (QTL) associated with OC. A single SNP was found to be significantly associated with OC. The low heritability of OC combined with the apparent lack of major QTL suggests GWE as an alternative approach to tackle this disease. A GWE analysis was carried out on the same dataset but the resulting genomic breeding values had no predictive ability for OC status. This, combined with the small number of significant QTL, indicates a lack of power which could be addressed in the future by increasing sample size. An alternative to genotyping more horses for the 50K SNP chip would be to use a low-density SNP panel and impute remaining genotypes. The final chapter of this thesis examines the feasibility of this approach in the Thoroughbred. Results suggest that genotyping only a subset of samples at high density and the remainder at lower density could be an effective strategy to enable greater progress to be made in the arena of equine genomics. Finally, this thesis provides an outlook on the future for genomics in the horse.