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Research article2018Peer reviewedOpen access

Genome-wide association study for bone strength in laying hens

Raymond, Biaty; Johansson, Anna Maria; McCormack, Heather Anne; Fleming, Robert Hall; Schmutz, Matthias; Dunn, Ian Chisholm; De Koning, Dirk Jan


Bone fracture in egg laying hens is a growing welfare and economic concern in the industry. Although environmental conditions and management (especially nutrition) can exacerbate it, the primary cause of bone weakness and the resulting fractures is believed to have a genetic basis. To test this hypothesis, we performed a genome-wide association study to identify the loci associated with bone strength in laying hens. Genotype and phenotype data were obtained from 752 laying hens belonging to the same pure line population. These hens were genotyped for 580,961 SNPs, with 232,021 SNPs remaining after quality control. Each of the SNPs were tested for association with tibial breaking strength using the family-based score test for association. A total of 52 SNPs across chromosomes 1, 3, 8, and 16 were significantly associated with tibial breaking strength with the genome-wide significance threshold set as a corrected P value of 10e-5. Based on the local linkage disequilibrium around the significant SNPs, 5 distinct and novel QTLs were identified on chromosomes 1 (2 QTLs), 3 (1 QTL), 8 (1 QTL) and 16 (1 QTL). The strongest association was detected within the QTL region on chromosome 8, with the most significant SNP having a corrected P value of 4e-7. A number of candidate genes were identified within the QTL regions, including the BRD2 gene that is required for normal bone physiology. Bone-related pathways involving some of the genes were also identified including chloride channel activity, which regulates bone reabsorption, and intermediate filament organization, which plays a role in the regulation of bone mass. Our result supports previous studies that suggest that bone strength is highly regulated by genetics. It is therefore possible to reduce bone fractures in laying hens through genetic selection and ultimately improve hen welfare.


bone strength; genetic selection; genome-wide association; laying hens; welfare

Published in

Journal of Animal Science
2018, Volume: 96, number: 7, pages: 2525-2535