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Genetic structure of European sheep breeds.

Lawson Handley, L. J.; Byrne, K.; Santucci, F.; Townsend, S.; Taylor, M.; Bruford, M. W.; Hewitt, G. M.


K. Byrne

F. Santucci

S. Townsend

M. Taylor

M. W. Bruford

G. M. Hewitt


Large-scale evaluations of genetic diversity in domestic livestock populations are necessary so that region-specific conservation measures can be implemented. We performed the first such survey in European sheep by analysing 820 individuals from 29 geographically and phenotypically diverse breeds and a closely related wild species at 23 microsatellite loci. In contrast to most other domestic species, we found evidence of widespread heterozygote deficit within breeds, even after removing loci with potentially high frequency of null alleles. This is most likely due to subdivision among flocks (Wahlund effect) and use of a small number of rams for breeding. Levels of heterozygosity were slightly higher in southern than in northern breeds, consistent with declining diversity with distance from the Near Eastern centre of domestication. Our results highlight the importance of isolation in terms of both geography and management in augmenting genetic differentiation through genetic drift, with isolated northern European breeds showing the greatest divergence and hence being obvious targets for conservation. Finally, using a Bayesian cluster analysis, we uncovered evidence of admixture between breeds, which has important implications for breed management.


Lawson Handley, L. J., Byrne, K., Santucci, F., Townsend, S., Taylor, M., Bruford, M. W., & Hewitt, G. M. (2007). Genetic structure of European sheep breeds. Heredity, 99(6), 620-631.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jun 18, 2007
Online Publication Date Aug 15, 2007
Publication Date Aug 15, 2007
Journal Heredity
Print ISSN 0018-067X
Electronic ISSN 1365-2540
Publisher Nature Publishing Group
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 99
Issue 6
Pages 620-631
Keywords Genetics(clinical); Genetics
Public URL
Publisher URL
PMID 17700634