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Mol Ecol. 2011 Feb;20(4):740-52. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-294X.2010.04975.x. Epub 2010 Dec 28.

Geographic variation of the major histocompatibility complex in Eastern Atlantic grey seals (Halichoerus grypus).

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  • 1Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EJ, UK.


Pathogen-driven balancing selection maintains high genetic diversity in many vertebrates, particularly in the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) immune system gene family, which is often associated with disease susceptibility. In large natural populations where subpopulations face different pathogen pressures, the MHC should show greater genetic differentiation within a species than neutral markers. We examined genetic diversity at the MHC-DQB locus and nine putatively neutral microsatellite markers in grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) from eight United Kingdom (UK) colonies, the Faeroe Islands and Sable Island, Canada. Five DQB alleles were identified in grey seals, which varied in prevalence across the grey seal range. Among the seal colonies, significant differences in DQB allele and haplotype frequencies and in average DQB heterozygosity were observed. Additionally, the DQB gene exhibited greater differentiation among colonies compared with neutral markers, yet a weaker pattern of isolation by distance (IBD). After correcting for the underlying IBD pattern, subpopulations breeding in similar habitats were more similar to one another in DQB allele frequencies than populations breeding in different habitats, but the same did not hold true for microsatellites, suggesting that habitat-specific pathogen pressure influences MHC evolution. Overall, the data are consistent with selection at MHC-DQB loci in grey seals with both varying selective pressures and geographic population structure appearing to influence the DQB genetic composition of breeding colonies.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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