Genome-wide association studies for sperm traits in Assaf sheep breed

Serrano, M., Ramón, M., Calvo, J.H., Jiménez, M.Á., Freire, F., Vázquez, J.M., Arranz, J.J. 2021. Genome-wide association studies for sperm traits in Assaf sheep breed. Animal, 15 (2), art. no. 100065. DOI: 10.1016/j.animal.2020.100065.

Sperm quality traits routinely collected by artificial insemination (AI) center for rams progeny test are related with the capacity to produce sperm doses for AI and, in more or less grade, with males' fertility. Low-quality ejaculates are unuseful to perform AI sperm doses, which suppose high economic loses for the AI center. Moreover, sperm quality traits have low heritability values which make traditional genetic selection little efficient to its improvement. In this work, a genome-wide association study (GWAS) was conducted by using sperm quality traits data and 50 K Affymetrix custom chip genotypes of 429 rams of Assaf breed from OVIGEN AI centre. Furthermore, 47 of these rams were also genotyped with the Illumina HD Ovine BeadChip, and therefore HD genotypes were imputed for all rams with phenotype data. Previous to the GWAS, a linear regression model was fitted including sperm traits as dependent variables; the flock of origin, date of sperm collection, and jump number as fixed effects; rams age at collection in months as covariate; and ram permanent effect as random. Pseudo-phenotypes obtained from this model were used as input for GWAS. Associations at the chromosome-wise level (FDR 10%) of 76 single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in 4 chromosomes for ejaculate concentration (CON), 20 SNPs in 3 chromosomes for ejaculate volume (VOL), 32 SNPs in 1 chromosome for ejaculate number of spermatozoa (SPZ), and 23 SNPs for spermatozoa mass motility (MOT) in 17 chromosomes were found. Only SNPs associated with MOT overcame the genome-wide significance level. Some candidate genes for sperm traits variability were SLC9C1 (OAR1), TSN (OAR2), and FUT10 (OAR26) for MOT;. DOCK2, CPLANE1, SPEF2, and RAI14 (OAR16) for CON; SCAPER and PSMA4 (OAR18) for VOL; and PARM1 and LOC101110593 (OAR6) for SPZ. SNPs associated with sperm traits were not found to be correlated with milk production genetic variation; however, the high frequencies of some SNPs with negative effect over sperm traits found in animals at the top milk yield estimated breeding values (EBVs) ranking would allow to exert some selective presure to improve rams sperm performances. Effects and frequencies of some of the SNPs detected over sperm quality traits make these variants good candidates to be used in marker-assisted selection to improve sperm characteristics of Assaf rams and AI center efficiency to produce sperm doses.