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Gehrke, Lilian Johanna; Capitan, Aurelien; Scheper, Carsten; König, Sven; Upadhyay, Maulik; Heidrich, Kristin; Russ, Ingolf; Seichter, Doris; Tetens, Jens; Medugorac, Ivica and Thaller, Georg (2020): Are scurs in heterozygous polled (Pp) cattle a complex quantitative trait? In: Genetics Selection Evolution, Vol. 52, No. 1, 6

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Background: Breeding genetically hornless, i.e. polled, cattle provides an animal welfare-friendly and non-invasive alternative to the dehorning of calves. However, the molecular regulation of the development of horns in cattle is still poorly understood. Studying genetic characters such as polledness and scurs, can provide valuable insights into this process. Scurs are hornlike formations that occur occasionally in a wide variety of sizes and forms as an unexpected phenotype when breeding polled cattle. Methods We present a unique dataset of 885 Holstein-Friesian cattle with polled parentage. The horn phenotype was carefully examined, and the phenotypic heterogeneity of the trait is described. Using a direct gene test for polledness, the polled genotype of the animals was determined. Subsequently, the existence of a putative scurs locus was investigated using high-density genotype data of a selected subset of 232 animals and two mapping approaches: mixed linear model-based association analyses and combined linkage disequilibrium and linkage analysis. Results The results of an exploratory data analysis indicated that the expression of scurs depends on age at phenotyping, sex and polled genotype. Scurs were more prevalent in males than in females. Moreover, homozygous polled animals did not express any pronounced scurs and we found that the Friesian polled allele suppresses the development of scurs more efficiently than the Celtic polled allele. Combined linkage and linkage disequilibrium mapping revealed four genome-wide significant loci that affect the development of scurs, one on BTA5 and three on BTA12. Moreover, suggestive associations were detected on BTA16, 18 and 23. The mixed linear model-based association analysis supports the results of the combined linkage and linkage disequilibrium analysis. None of the mapping approaches provided convincing evidence for a monogenic inheritance of scurs. Conclusions: Our results contradict the initial and still broadly accepted model for the inheritance of horns and scurs. We hypothesise an oligogenetic model to explain the development of scurs and polledness.

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