Investigating the impact of reference assembly choice on genomic analyses in a cattle breed

Audald Lloret-Villas, Meenu Bhati, Naveen Kumar Kadri, Ruedi Fries, Hubert Pausch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Background: Reference-guided read alignment and variant genotyping are prone to reference allele bias, particularly for samples that are greatly divergent from the reference genome. A Hereford-based assembly is the widely accepted bovine reference genome. Haplotype-resolved genomes that exceed the current bovine reference genome in quality and continuity have been assembled for different breeds of cattle. Using whole genome sequencing data of 161 Brown Swiss cattle, we compared the accuracy of read mapping and sequence variant genotyping as well as downstream genomic analyses between the bovine reference genome (ARS-UCD1.2) and a highly continuous Angus-based assembly (UOA_Angus_1). Results: Read mapping accuracy did not differ notably between the ARS-UCD1.2 and UOA_Angus_1 assemblies. We discovered 22,744,517 and 22,559,675 high-quality variants from ARS-UCD1.2 and UOA_Angus_1, respectively. The concordance between sequence- and array-called genotypes was high and the number of variants deviating from Hardy-Weinberg proportions was low at segregating sites for both assemblies. More artefactual INDELs were genotyped from UOA_Angus_1 than ARS-UCD1.2 alignments. Using the composite likelihood ratio test, we detected 40 and 33 signatures of selection from ARS-UCD1.2 and UOA_Angus_1, respectively, but the overlap between both assemblies was low. Using the 161 sequenced Brown Swiss cattle as a reference panel, we imputed sequence variant genotypes into a mapping cohort of 30,499 cattle that had microarray-derived genotypes using a two-step imputation approach. The accuracy of imputation (Beagle R2) was very high (0.87) for both assemblies. Genome-wide association studies between imputed sequence variant genotypes and six dairy traits as well as stature produced almost identical results from both assemblies. Conclusions: The ARS-UCD1.2 and UOA_Angus_1 assemblies are suitable for reference-guided genome analyses in Brown Swiss cattle. Although differences in read mapping and genotyping accuracy between both assemblies are negligible, the choice of the reference genome has a large impact on detecting signatures of selection that already reached fixation using the composite likelihood ratio test. We developed a workflow that can be adapted and reused to compare the impact of reference genomes on genome analyses in various breeds, populations and species.

Original languageEnglish
Article number363
JournalBMC Genomics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Alignment quality
  • Bovine
  • Functional annotation
  • Genome-wide association study
  • Reference genome comparison
  • Sequence variants
  • Signatures of selection


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