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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Linkage disequilibrium compared between five populations of domestic sheep

Jennifer RS Meadows12, Eva KF Chan1 and James W Kijas1*

Author Affiliations

1 CSIRO Livestock Industries, Level 5 Queensland Bioscience Precinct, 306 Carmody Road, St Lucia 4067, Australia

2 University of New England, School of Rural Science and Agriculture, Armidale 2351, Australia

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BMC Genetics 2008, 9:61  doi:10.1186/1471-2156-9-61

Published: 30 September 2008



The success of genome-wide scans depends on the strength and magnitude of linkage disequilibrium (LD) present within the populations under investigation. High density SNP arrays are currently in development for the sheep genome, however little is known about the behaviour of LD in this livestock species. This study examined the behaviour of LD within five sheep populations using two LD metrics, D' and x2'. Four economically important Australian sheep flocks, three pure breeds (White Faced Suffolk, Poll Dorset, Merino) and a crossbred population (Merino × Border Leicester), along with an inbred Australian Merino museum flock were analysed.


Short range LD (0 – 5 cM) was observed in all five populations, however the persistence with increasing distance and magnitude of LD varied considerably between populations. Average LD (x2') for markers spaced up to 20 cM exceeded the non-syntenic average within the White Faced Suffolk, Poll Dorset and Macarthur Merino. LD decayed faster within the Merino and Merino × Border Leicester, with LD below or consistent with observed background levels. Using marker-marker LD as a guide to the behaviour of marker-QTL LD, estimates of minimum marker spacing were made. For a 95% probability of detecting QTL, a microsatellite marker would be required every 0.1 – 2.5 centimorgans, depending on the population used.


Sheep populations were selected which were inbred (Macarthur Merino), highly heterogeneous (Merino) or intermediate between these two extremes. This facilitated analysis and comparison of LD (x2') between populations. The strength and magnitude of LD was found to differ markedly between breeds and aligned closely with both observed levels of genetic diversity and expectations based on breed history. This confirmed that breed specific information is likely to be important for genome wide selection and during the design of successful genome scans where tens of thousands of markers will be required.