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PLoS One. 2012;7(6):e38766. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0038766. Epub 2012 Jun 11.

Genetics of microenvironmental sensitivity of body weight in rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) selected for improved growth.

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MTT Agrifood Research Finland, Biometrical Genetics, Jokioinen, Finland.


Microenvironmental sensitivity of a genotype refers to the ability to buffer against non-specific environmental factors, and it can be quantified by the amount of residual variation in a trait expressed by the genotype's offspring within a (macro)environment. Due to the high degree of polymorphism in behavioral, growth and life-history traits, both farmed and wild salmonids are highly susceptible to microenvironmental variation, yet the heritable basis of this characteristic remains unknown. We estimated the genetic (co)variance of body weight and its residual variation in 2-year-old rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) using a multigenerational data of 45,900 individuals from the Finnish national breeding programme. We also tested whether or not microenvironmental sensitivity has been changed as a correlated genetic response when genetic improvement for growth has been practiced over five generations. The animal model analysis revealed the presence of genetic heterogeneity both in body weight and its residual variation. Heritability of residual variation was remarkably lower (0.02) than that for body weight (0.35). However, genetic coefficient of variation was notable in both body weight (14%) and its residual variation (37%), suggesting a substantial potential for selection responses in both traits. Furthermore, a significant negative genetic correlation (-0.16) was found between body weight and its residual variation, i.e., rapidly growing genotypes are also more tolerant to perturbations in microenvironment. The genetic trends showed that fish growth was successfully increased by selective breeding (an average of 6% per generation), whereas no genetic change occurred in residual variation during the same period. The results imply that genetic improvement for body weight does not cause a concomitant increase in microenvironmental sensitivity. For commercial production, however, there may be high potential to simultaneously improve weight gain and increase its uniformity if both criteria are included in a selection index.

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