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Characterization of the genetic diversity, structure and admixture of British chicken breeds

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The characterization of livestock genetic diversity can inform breed conservation initiatives. The genetic diversity and genetic structure were assessed in 685 individual genotypes sampled from 24 British chicken breeds. A total of 239 alleles were found across 30 microsatellite loci with a mean number of 7.97 alleles per locus. The breeds were highly differentiated, with an average F(ST) of 0.25, similar to that of European chicken breeds. The genetic diversity in British chicken breeds was comparable to that found in European chicken breeds, with an average number of alleles per locus of 3.59, ranging from 2.00 in Spanish to 4.40 in Maran, and an average expected heterozygosity of 0.49, ranging from 0.20 in Spanish to 0.62 in Araucana. However, the majority of breeds were not in Hardy-Weinberg Equilibrium, as indicated by heterozygote deficiency in the majority of breeds (average F(IS) of 0.20), with an average observed heterozygote frequency of 0.39, ranging from 0.15 in Spanish to 0.49 in Cochin. Individual-based clustering analyses revealed that most individuals clustered to breed origin. However, genetic subdivisions occurred in several breeds, and this was predominantly associated with flock supplier and occasionally by morphological type. The deficit of heterozygotes was likely owing to a Wahlund effect caused by sampling from different flocks, implying structure within breeds. It is proposed that gene flow amongst flocks within breeds should be enhanced to maintain the current levels of genetic diversity. Additionally, certain breeds had low levels of both genetic diversity and uniqueness. Consideration is required for the conservation and preservation of these potentially vulnerable breeds.

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