Breeding and genetics

Integrating genomic selection into dairy cattle breeding programmes: a review

A. Bouqueta1 c1 and J. Jugaa1

a1 Department of Agricultural Sciences, University of Helsinki, PO Box 27, FI-00014, Helsinki, Finland


Extensive genetic progress has been achieved in dairy cattle populations on many traits of economic importance because of efficient breeding programmes. Success of these programmes has relied on progeny testing of the best young males to accurately assess their genetic merit and hence their potential for breeding. Over the last few years, the integration of dense genomic information into statistical tools used to make selection decisions, commonly referred to as genomic selection, has enabled gains in predicting accuracy of breeding values for young animals without own performance. The possibility to select animals at an early stage allows defining new breeding strategies aimed at boosting genetic progress while reducing costs. The first objective of this article was to review methods used to model and optimize breeding schemes integrating genomic selection and to discuss their relative advantages and limitations. The second objective was to summarize the main results and perspectives on the use of genomic selection in practical breeding schemes, on the basis of the example of dairy cattle populations. Two main designs of breeding programmes integrating genomic selection were studied in dairy cattle. Genomic selection can be used either for pre-selecting males to be progeny tested or for selecting males to be used as active sires in the population. The first option produces moderate genetic gains without changing the structure of breeding programmes. The second option leads to large genetic gains, up to double those of conventional schemes because of a major reduction in the mean generation interval, but it requires greater changes in breeding programme structure. The literature suggests that genomic selection becomes more attractive when it is coupled with embryo transfer technologies to further increase selection intensity on the dam-to-sire pathway. The use of genomic information also offers new opportunities to improve preservation of genetic variation. However, recent simulation studies have shown that putting constraints on genomic inbreeding rates for defining optimal contributions of breeding animals could significantly reduce achievable genetic gain. Finally, the article summarizes the potential of genomic selection to include new traits in the breeding goal to meet societal demands regarding animal health and environmental efficiency in animal production.

(Received December 20 2011)

(Accepted September 14 2012)

(Online publication December 03 2012)


  • genomic selection;
  • breeding programme;
  • dairy cattle;
  • genetic gain;
  • inbreeding rates


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