Genetics of behavioural adaptation of livestock to farming conditions.
An association study between SNP markers and feather condition score on the back, rump and belly of laying hens was performed. Feather condition score is a measure of feather damage, which has been shown to be closely related to feather pecking behaviour in hens housed in groups. A population of 662 hens was genotyped for 1536 SNPs of which 1022 could be used for the association study. The analysis was conducted across 9 different lines of White Leghorn and Rhode Island Red origin. Across lines linkage disequilibrium is conserved at shorter distances than within lines; therefore, SNPs significantly associated with feather condition score across lines are expected to be closer to the functional mutations. The SNPs that had a significant across-line effect but did not show significant SNP-by-line interaction were identified, to test that the association was consistent across lines. Both the direct effect of the individual's genotype on its plumage condition, and the associative effect of the genotype of the cage mates on the individual's plumage condition were analysed. The direct genetic effect can be considered as the susceptibility to be pecked at, whereas the associative genetic effect can be interpreted as the propensity to perform feather pecking. Finally, 11 significant associations between SNPs and behavioural traits were detected in the direct model, and 81 in the associative model. A role of the gene for the serotonin receptor 2C (HTR2C) on chromosome 4 was found. This supports existing evidence of a prominent involvement of the serotonergic system in the modulation of this behavioural disorder in laying hens. The genes for IL9, IL4, CCL4 and NFKB were found to be associated to plumage condition, revealing relationships between the immune system and behaviour.