Symposium review: Genetics, genome-wide association study, and genetic improvement of dairy fertility traits

L. Ma, J. B. Cole, Y. Da, P. M. VanRaden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


Before fertility traits were incorporated into selection, dairy cattle breeding primarily focused on production traits, which resulted in an unfavorable decline in the reproductive performance of dairy cattle. This reduced fertility is constantly challenging the dairy industry on the efficiency and sustainability of dairy production. Recent development of genomic selection on fertility traits has stabilized and even reversed the decreasing trend, showing the effectiveness of genomic selection. Meanwhile, genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have been performed to identify quantitative trait loci (QTL) and candidate genes associated with dairy fertility, providing a better understanding of the genetic architecture of fertility traits. In this review, we provide an overview of the genetics of fertility traits, summarize the findings from existing GWAS of female fertility in dairy cattle, and update the recent research progress in US dairy cattle. Because of the polygenic nature of fertility traits, many GWAS of dairy fertility tended to be underpowered. Only 1 major QTL, on BTA18, was identified across multiple studies. This QTL was associated with a range of fertility traits from conception to calving, but the candidate gene or mutation is still missing. Collectively, with the promising success from genomic selection but low power of GWAS on dairy fertility traits, this review calls for continuous data collection of fertility traits to enable more powerful studies of dairy fertility in the future.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3735-3743
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported in part by Agriculture and Food Research Initiative grant no. 2016-67015-24886 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (Washington, DC) and grant no. US-4997-17 from the US-Israel Binational Agricultural Research and Development Fund (Rishon LeZion, Israel). JBC and PMV were also supported by appropriated projects 1265-31000-096-00, “Improving Genetic Predictions in Dairy Animals Using Phenotypic and Genomic Information,” and 8042-31000-104-00, “Enhancing Genetic Merit of Ruminants Through Genome Selection and Analysis,” of the Agricultural Research Service of the USDA (Washington, DC), respectively. Mention of trade names or commercial products in this article is solely for the purpose of providing specific information and does not imply recommendation or endorsement by the USDA. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 American Dairy Science Association


  • dairy cattle
  • fertility
  • genome-wide association study
  • genomic selection


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