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J. Avian Biol. 2012 Mar;43(2):109-118. Epub 2012 Mar 8.

Maintenance of MHC Class IIB diversity in a recently established songbird population.

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  • 1BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action, Michigan State University, 1441 Biomedical and Physical Sciences, East Lansing, MI, 48824.

Abstract

We examined variation at MHC Class IIB genes in a recently established population of dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis) in a coastal urban environment in southern California, USA relative to an ancestral-range population from a nearby species-typical montane environment. The founding population is estimated to have been quite small, but we predicted that variation at the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) among the founders would nevertheless be preserved owing to the high functional significance of MHC. Previous studies of MHC in songbirds have had varying degrees of success in isolating loci, as passerines show extensive MHC gene duplication. In order to compare diversity in the two populations, we employed two published approaches to sequencing MHC Class II exon 2: direct sequencing with exon-based primers, and traditional cloning and sequencing with intron-based primers. Results from both methods show that the colonist population has maintained high levels of variation. Our results also indicate varying numbers of alleles across individuals, corroborating evidence for gene duplication in songbird MHC. While future studies in songbirds may need to take a genomic approach to fully understand the structure of MHC in this lineage, our results show that it is possible to use traditional methods to reveal functional variation across populations.

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