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Linkage disequilibrium and inbreeding estimation in Spanish Churra sheep

Elsa García-Gámez12, Goutam Sahana2, Beatriz Gutiérrez-Gil1 and Juan-Jose Arranz1*

Author affiliations

1 Dpto. Producción Animal, Universidad de León, 24071, León, Spain

2 Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark

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Citation and License

BMC Genetics 2012, 13:43  doi:10.1186/1471-2156-13-43

Published: 12 June 2012



Genomic technologies, such as high-throughput genotyping based on SNP arrays, have great potential to decipher the genetic architecture of complex traits and provide background information concerning genome structure in domestic animals, including the extent of linkage disequilibrium (LD) and haplotype blocks. The objective of this study was to estimate LD, the population evolution (past effective population size) and the level of inbreeding in Spanish Churra sheep.


A total of 43,784 SNPs distributed in the ovine autosomal genome was analyzed in 1,681 Churra ewes. LD was assessed by measuring r2 between all pairs of loci. For SNPs up to 10 kb apart, the average r2 was 0.329; for SNPs separated by 200–500 kb the average r2 was 0.061. When SNPs are separated by more than 50 Mbp, the average r2 is the same as between non-syntenic SNP pairs (0.003). The effective population size has decreased through time, faster from 1,000 to 100 years ago and slower since the selection scheme started (15–25 generations ago). In the last generation, four years ago, the effective population size was estimated to be 128 animals. Inbreeding coefficients, although differed depending on the estimation approaches, were generally low and showed the same trend, which indicates that since 2003, inbreeding has been slightly increasing in the studied resource population.


The extent of LD in Churra sheep persists over much more limited distances than reported in dairy cattle and seems to be similar to other ovine populations. Churra sheep show a wide genetic base, with a long-term viable effective population size that has been slightly decreasing since selection scheme began in 1986. The genomic dataset analyzed provided useful information for identifying low-level inbreeding in the sample, whereas based on the parameters reported here, a higher marker density than that analyzed here will be needed to successfully conduct accurate mapping of genes underlying production traits and genomic selection prediction in this sheep breed. Although the Ovine Assembly development is still in a draft stage and future refinements will provide a more accurate physical map that will improve LD estimations, this work is a first step towards the understanding of the genetic architecture in sheep.