Loci associated with conception rate in crossbred beef heifers.
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The inability of beef cattle to maintain full term pregnancies has become an economic concern for the beef industry. Herd management and nutritional improvements have alleviated environmental impacts on embryonic and fetal loss, yet additional gains can be made through genomic selection. The objectives of this study were to identify loci and gene-sets in crossbred beef heifers associated with the number of services required to become pregnant (TBRD) and heifer conception rate at first service (HCR1). Heifers (n = 709) from a commercial beef operation underwent one round of artificial insemination, before exposure to bulls for natural service for 50 days. Pregnancy and time of conception was determined by ultrasound 35 days after the breeding season. Heifers were genotyped using the GeneSeek (Lincoln, NE) Bovine GGP50K BeadChip prior to genome-wide association analyses (GWAA) conducted using an EIGENSTRAT-like model to identify loci associated (P < 1 10-5) with TBRD and HCR1. One locus was associated (P = 8.97 10-6) with TBRD on BTA19 and included the positional candidate gene ASIC2, which is differentially expressed in the endometrium of fertility classified heifers, and the positional candidate gene, SPACA3. Gene-set enrichment analyses using SNP (GSEA-SNP) data, was performed and identified one gene-set, oxidoreductase activity, acting on paired donors, with incorporation or reduction of molecular oxygen as enriched (NES = 3.15) with TBRD and contained nine leading edge genes that contributed to the enrichment of the gene set. The enriched gene-set is involved in catalyzing oxidation-reduction reactions, which have been associated with oxidative stressors impacting pregnancy success. No loci were associated nor gene-sets enriched with HCR1. Identification of loci, positional candidate genes, gene-sets and leading edge genes enriched for fertility facilitate genomic selection that allows producers to select for reproductively superior cattle, reduce costs associated with infertility, and increase percent calf crop.