Genome-wide assessment of worldwide chicken SNP genetic diversity indicates significant absence of rare alleles in commercial breeds

W.M. Muir, G.K. Wong, Y. Zhang, M.A.M. Groenen, R.P.M.A. Crooijmans, H.J.W.C. Megens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

167 Citations (Scopus)


Breed utilization, genetic improvement, and industry consolidation are predicted to have major impacts on the genetic composition of commercial chickens. Consequently, the question arises as to whether sufficient genetic diversity remains within industry stocks to address future needs. With the chicken genome sequence and more than 2.8 million single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), it is now possible to address biodiversity using a previously unattainable metric: missing alleles. To achieve this assessment, 2551 informative SNPs were genotyped on 2580 individuals, including 1440 commercial birds. The proportion of alleles lacking in commercial populations was assessed by (1) estimating the global SNP allele frequency distribution from a hypothetical ancestral population as a reference, then determining the portion of the distribution lost, and then (2) determining the relationship between allele loss and the inbreeding coefficient. The results indicate that 50% or more of the genetic diversity in ancestral breeds is absent in commercial pure lines. The missing genetic diversity resulted from the limited number of incorporated breeds. As such, hypothetically combining stocks within a company could recover only preexisting within-breed variability, but not more rare ancestral alleles. We establish that SNP weights act as sentinels of biodiversity and provide an objective assessment of the strains that are most valuable for preserving genetic diversity. This is the first experimental analysis investigating the extant genetic diversity of virtually an entire agricultural commodity. The methods presented are the first to characterize biodiversity in terms of allelic diversity and to objectively link rate of allele loss with the inbreeding coefficient
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17312-17317
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number45
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • animal breeding
  • poultry
  • breeds
  • animal production
  • biodiversity
  • genetic diversity
  • alleles
  • inbreeding
  • genotyping
  • single nucleotide polymorphism
  • linkage disequilibrium
  • population-structure
  • myostatin gene
  • polymorphism
  • phenotype
  • selection
  • mutation
  • growth
  • cattle

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