Open Access Research article

Signatures of selection in sheep bred for resistance or susceptibility to gastrointestinal nematodes

Kathryn M McRae12, John C McEwan2*, Ken G Dodds2 and Neil J Gemmell1

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Reproduction and Genomics, Department of Anatomy, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand

2 AgResearch, Invermay Agricultural Research Centre, Mosgiel, New Zealand

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BMC Genomics 2014, 15:637  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-637

Published: 30 July 2014



Gastrointestinal nematodes are one of the most serious causes of disease in domestic ruminants worldwide. There is considerable variation in resistance to gastrointestinal nematodes within and between sheep breeds, which appears to be due to underlying genetic diversity. Through selection of resistant animals, rapid genetic progress has been demonstrated in both research and commercial flocks. Recent advances in genome sequencing and genomic technologies provide new opportunities to understand the ovine host response to gastrointestinal nematodes at the molecular level, and to identify polymorphisms conferring nematode resistance.


Divergent lines of Romney and Perendale sheep, selectively bred for high and low faecal nematode egg count, were genotyped using the Illumina® Ovine SNP50 BeadChip. The resulting genome-wide SNP data were analysed for selective sweeps on loci associated with resistance or susceptibility to gastrointestinal nematode infection. Population differentiation using FST and Peddrift revealed sixteen regions, which included candidate genes involved in chitinase activity and the cytokine response. Two of the sixteen regions identified were contained within previously identified QTLs associated with nematode resistance.


In this study we identified fourteen novel regions associated with resistance or susceptibility to gastrointestinal nematodes. Results from this study support the hypothesis that host resistance to internal nematode parasites is likely to be controlled by a number of loci of moderate to small effects.