Use of quantitative trait loci (QTL) affecting muscling in sheep for breeding
Breeding programmes that use elite sires with the best estimated breeding values for muscling traits have achieved significant improvement in lamb production in the UK. Further acceleration of the rate of genetic gain for the desirable production traits could be achieved using DNA marker-assisted selection (MAS) breeding strategies. The underlying causal genetic variants associated with improved muscling may be unknown and lying between a cluster of genes known as quantitative trait loci (QTL) or could be single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP). LoinMAXTM, Texel muscling QTL (TM-QTL) and c.*1232G > A myostatin mutation were genetic variants that reported to be associated with improved muscling characteristics and hence subjected to further analysis in this project. It is essential before incorporating segregating genetic variants in any breeding scheme to comprehensively evaluate their effects on carcass traits. In-vivo scanning (ultrasound scanning (US) and computed tomography scanning (CT)), and carcass video image analyses (VIA) were used in the current studies. Objective VIAprediction weights of the carcass primal cuts could be the backbone of a value-based marketing system that is suggested to replace the current Meat and Livestock Commission (MLC) carcass grades for conformation scores (MLC-C) and fat class (MLC-F). The effect of a single copy of LoinMAXTM QTL (LM-QTL) compared to noncarriers was evaluated in UK crossbred lambs out of Scottish Mule ewes. M. longissimus lumborum (MLL) width, depth and area, as measured by CT scanning, were significantly greater in lambs heterozygous for LM-QTL compared to noncarriers. VIA detected a significant effect of the LM-QTL on the predicted weight of saleable meat yield in the loin primal cut (+2.2%; P < 0.05). The effects of the ovine c.*1232G > A myostatin mutation (MM), found on sheep chromosome 2, on carcass traits in heterozygous crossbred lambs sired by Texel and Poll Dorset rams were studied. Texel crossbred lambs carrying MM had increased loin depth and area. In both crossbred lambs, MM-carriers had significantly higher CT-estimated lean weight and proportion (2 to 4%) and muscle to bone ratios (by ~3%). Poll Dorset heterozygous crossbred animals had higher muscle to fat ratio (28%) and significantly lower fat-related measurements. The c.*1232G > A (MM) mutation as well as TM-QTL effects were evaluated in a different genetic background of Texel x Welsh Mountain crossbreed lambs. Carrying two copies of MM was associated with a significant positive effect on 8 week weight, a negative effect on ultrasound fat depth, a substantial decrease in MLC-fat score, positive impact on VIA-estimated weight of the hind leg, chump and loin primal cuts, as well as the muscularity of the hind leg and loin regions with greater loin muscle width, depth and area. Two copies of MM altered lambs‟ morphological traits with significantly wider carcasses across the shoulders, breast and hind legs and greater areas of the back view of the carcass when measured by VIA. TM-QTL significantly increased US-muscle depth and TM-QTL carriers had significantly greater loin muscle width and area measurements. Comparing TM-QTL genetic groups (homozygote allele carriers (TM/TM), heterozygote carriers of paternal and maternal origin of allele (TM/+ and +/TM, respectively) and homozygote non-carriers (+/+)) and TM-QTL mode of action were then studied. TM/TM carcasses were significantly heavier than non-carriers by 1.6 kg and scored higher conformation values when compared to heterozygote groups only. TM/+ lambs had significantly higher VIA-predicted weight and muscularity in the hind leg and loin, and higher loin dimensions relative to some other genotypic groups. The effect of TM-QTL on some carcass shape measurements was significant. TM-QTL mode of action results on the loin muscling traits supports the earlier reports of polar over dominance. In the light of growing calls to replace the current subjective carcass payment system with the objective VIA system that values the carcass according to the superiority of its cuts, I investigated the ability of US and CT measurements to predict the VIAestimated weights of the carcass primal cuts. Several prediction equations were examined but the best could be achieved when ultrasound measurement, CT linear measurements and live weight were fitted in the model. Since CT scanning information of elite sires is now being used for genetic selection for carcass merit, genetic parameters and genetic relationships between CT scanning measurements and post mortem traits (VIA and MLC-FC) were estimated. However, results were not sufficiently accurate to be of practical use due to lack of data.