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Open Access Research article

Genetic parameters for milk fatty acids in Danish Holstein cattle based on SNP markers using a Bayesian approach

Kristian Krag1, Nina A Poulsen2, Mette K Larsen2, Lotte B Larsen2, Luc L Janss1 and Bart Buitenhuis1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, Faculty of Science and Technology, Aarhus University, PO Box 50, DK-8830 Tjele, Denmark

2 Department of Food Science, Faculty of Science and Technology, Aarhus University, PO Box 50, DK-8830 Tjele, Denmark

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BMC Genetics 2013, 14:79  doi:10.1186/1471-2156-14-79

Published: 11 September 2013



For several years, in human nutrition there has been a focus on the proportion of unsaturated fatty acids (UFA) and saturated fatty acids (SFA) found in bovine milk. The positive health-related properties of UFA versus SFA have increased the demand for food products with a higher proportion of UFA. To be able to change the UFA and SFA content of the milk by breeding it is important to know whether there is a genetic component underlying the individual FA in the milk. We have estimated the heritability for individual FA in the milk of Danish Holstein. For this purpose we used information of SNP markers instead of the traditional pedigree relationships.


Estimates of heritability were moderate within the range of 0.10 for C18:1 trans-11 to 0.34 for C8:0 and C10:0, whereas the estimates for saturated fatty acids and unsaturated fatty acids were 0.14 and 0.18, respectively. Posterior standard deviations were in the range from 0.07 to 0.17. The correlation estimates showed a general pattern of two groups, one group mainly consisting of saturated fatty acids and one group mainly consisting of unsaturated fatty acids. The phenotypic correlation ranged from −0.95 (saturated fatty acids and unsaturated fatty acids) to 0.99 (unsaturated fatty acids and monounsaturated fatty acids) and the genomic correlation for fatty acids ranged from −0.29 to 0.91.


The heritability estimates obtained in this study are in general accordance with heritability estimates from studies using pedigree data and/or a genomic relationship matrix in the context of a REML approach. SFA and UFA expressed a strong negative phenotypic correlation and a weaker genetic correlation. This is in accordance with the theory that SFA is synthesized de novo, while UFA can be regulated independently from the regulation of SFA by the feeding regime.

Genomic heritability; Genomic correlation; Bayesian mixed model; Milk fatty acids