The methylation landscape and its role in domestication and gene regulation in the chicken

Andrey Höglund, Rie Henriksen, Jesper Fogelholm, Allison M Churcher, Carlos M Guerrero-Bosagna, Alvaro Martinez-Barrio, Martin Johnsson, Per Jensen, Dominic Wright

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Domestication is one of the strongest examples of artificial selection and has produced some of the most extreme within-species phenotypic variation known. In the case of the chicken, it has been hypothesized that DNA methylation may play a mechanistic role in the domestication response. By inter-crossing wild-derived red junglefowl with domestic chickens, we mapped quantitative trait loci for hypothalamic methylation (methQTL), gene expression (eQTL) and behaviour. We find large, stable methylation differences, with 6,179 cis and 2,973 trans methQTL identified. Over 46% of the trans effects were genotypically controlled by five loci, mainly associated with increased methylation in the junglefowl genotype. In a third of eQTL, we find that there is a correlation between gene expression and methylation, while statistical causality analysis reveals multiple instances where methylation is driving gene expression, as well as the reverse. We also show that methylation is correlated with some aspects of behavioural variation in the inter-cross. In conclusion, our data suggest a role for methylation in the regulation of gene expression underlying the domesticated phenotype of the chicken.

Original languageEnglish
JournalNature Ecology & Evolution
Early online date21 Sep 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 21 Sep 2020

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