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Nature. 1987 May 14-20;327(6118):147-9.

Demographic study of a wild house sparrow population by DNA fingerprinting.


Over the past twenty years, several techniques from biochemical and molecular genetics, such as enzyme electrophoresis and isoelectric focusing, have been widely and successfully applied to the study of population differentiation and evolution. However, they have been less applicable to demographic problems such as assigning parentage to individuals within a population. This stems from a general weakness of data derived from enzyme loci: allele frequencies at polymorphic loci are sufficiently skewed that the majority of individuals are of one or two genotypes. Many enzyme systems can only be examined post mortem, so that the loci are of little use if the animals are to be studied in the wild. The search for new and more sensitive techniques for detecting genetic variation has continued, and recently a major discovery has come from molecular biology. Jeffreys et al. have reported the detection of a type of hypervariable 'minisatellite' DNA that is extraordinarily polymorphic in human populations. We have applied their technique to several bird species and particularly to a population of house sparrows (Passer domesticus) near Nottingham. We report here that one of the human minisatellite clones is a suitable probe for sparrow DNA and that it reveals variation as extensive as that found in man. These results suggest that analysis of minisatellite DNA will be a powerful tool in the study of demographic population genetics.

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