Mechanistic animal growth models can incorporate a description of the genotype as represented by underlying biological traits that aim to specify the animal's genetic potential for performance, independent from the environmental factors captured by the models. It can be argued that these traits may therefore be more closely associated to genetic potential, or components of genetic merit that are more robust across environments, than the environmentally dependent phenotypic traits currently used for genetic evaluation. The prediction of merit for underlying biological traits can be valuable for breeding and development of selection strategies across environments.
Model inversion has been identified as a valid method for obtaining estimates of phenotypic and genetic components of the biological traits representing the genotype in the mechanistic model. The present study shows how these estimates were obtained for two existing pig breeds based on genetic and phenotypic components of existing performance trait records. Some of the resulting parameter estimates associated with each breed differ substantially, implying that the genetic differences between the breeds are represented in the underlying biological traits. The estimated heritabilities for the genetic potentials for growth, carcass composition and feed efficiency as represented by biological traits exceed the heritability estimates of related phenotypic traits that are currently used in evaluation processes for both breeds. The estimated heritabilities for maintenance energy requirements are however relatively small, suggesting that traits associated with basic survival processes have low heritability, provided that maintenance processes are appropriately represented by the model.
The results of this study suggest that mechanistic animal growth models can be useful to animal breeding through the introduction of new biological traits that are less influenced by environmental factors than phenotypic traits currently used. Potential value comes from the estimation of underlying biological trait components and the explicit description of their expression across a range of environments as predicted by the model equations.