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Invited review: Phenotyping strategies and quantitative-genetic background of resistance, tolerance and resilience associated traits in dairy cattle

  • S. König (a1) and K. May (a1) (a2)


In dairy cattle, resistance, tolerance and resilience refer to the adaptation ability to a broad range of environmental conditions, implying stable performances (e.g. production level, fertility status) independent from disease or infection pressure. All three mechanisms resistance, tolerance and resilience contribute to overall robustness, implying the evaluation of phenotyping and breeding strategies for improved robustness in dairy cattle populations. Classically, breeding approaches on improved robustness rely on simple production traits, in combination with detailed environmental descriptors and enhanced statistical modelling to infer possible genotype by environment interactions. In this regard, innovative environmental descriptors were heat stress indicators, and statistical modelling focussed on random regression or reaction norm methodology. A robust animal has high breeding values over a broad spectra of environmental levels. During the last years, direct health traits were included into selection indices, implying advances in genetic evaluations for traits being linked to resistance or tolerance against infectious and non-infectious diseases. Up to now, genetic evaluation for health traits is primarily based on subjectively measured producer-recorded data, with disease trait heritabilities in a low-to-moderate range. Thus, it is imperative to identify objectively measurable phenotypes as suitable biomarkers. New technologies (e.g. mid-infrared spectrometry) offer possibilities to determine potential biomarkers via laboratory analyses. Novel biomarkers include measurable physiological traits (e.g. serum metabolites, hormone levels) as indicators for a current infection, or the host’s reaction to environmental stressors. The rumen microbiome composition is proposed as a biomarker to detect interactions between host genotype and environmental effects. The understanding of host genetic variation in disease resistance and individual expression of robustness encourages analyses on the underlying immune response (IR) system. Recent advances have been made in order to infer the genetic background of IR traits and cows immunological competence in relation to functional and production traits. Thus, a last aspect of this review addresses the genetic background and current state of genetic control for resistance to economically relevant infectious and non-infectious dairy cattle diseases by considering immune-related factors.


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