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Balancing selection at a premature stop mutation in the myostatin gene underlies a recessive leg weakness syndrome in pigs

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Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1007759
JournalPLoS Genetics
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jan 2019


Balancing selection provides a plausible explanation for the maintenance of deleterious alleles at moderate frequency in livestock, including lethal recessives exhibiting heterozygous advantage in carriers. In the current study, a leg weakness syndrome causing mortality of piglets in a commercial line showed monogenic recessive inheritance, and a region on chromosome 15 associated with the syndrome was identified by homozygosity mapping. Whole genome resequencing of cases and controls identified a mutation causing a premature stop codon within exon 3 of the porcine Myostatin (MSTN) gene, similar to those causing a double-muscling phenotype observed in several mammalian species. The MSTN mutation was in Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium in the population at birth, but significantly distorted amongst animals still in the herd at 110 kg, due to an absence of homozygous mutant genotypes. In heterozygous form, the MSTN mutation was associated with a major increase in muscle depth and decrease in fat depth, suggesting that the deleterious allele was maintained at moderate frequency due to heterozygous advantage (allele frequency, q = 0.22). Knockout of the porcine MSTN by gene editing has previously been linked to problems of low piglet survival and lameness. This MSTN mutation is an example of putative balancing selection in livestock, providing a plausible explanation for the lack of disrupting MSTN mutations in pigs despite many generations of selection for lean growth.

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