From high masked to high realized genetic load in inbred Scandinavian wolves.

Smeds L, Ellegren H

Mol. Ecol. 32 (7) 1567-1580 [2023-04-00; online 2022-12-13]

When new mutations arise at functional sites they are more likely to impair than improve fitness. If not removed by purifying selection, such deleterious mutations will generate a genetic load that can have negative fitness effects in small populations and increase the risk of extinction. This is relevant for the highly inbred Scandinavian wolf (Canis lupus) population, founded by only three wolves in the 1980s and suffering from inbreeding depression. We used functional annotation and evolutionary conservation scores to study deleterious variation in a total of 209 genomes from both the Scandinavian and neighbouring wolf populations in northern Europe. The masked load (deleterious mutations in heterozygote state) was highest in Russia and Finland with deleterious alleles segregating at lower frequency than neutral variation. Genetic drift in the Scandinavian population led to the loss of ancestral alleles, fixation of deleterious variants and a significant increase in the per-individual realized load (deleterious mutations in homozygote state; an increase by 45% in protein-coding genes) over five generations of inbreeding. Arrival of immigrants gave a temporary genetic rescue effect with ancestral alleles re-entering the population and thereby shifting deleterious alleles from homozygous into heterozygote genotypes. However, in the absence of permanent connectivity to Finnish and Russian populations, inbreeding has then again led to the exposure of deleterious mutations. These observations provide genome-wide insight into the magnitude of genetic load and genetic rescue at the molecular level, and in relation to population history. They emphasize the importance of securing gene flow in the management of endangered populations.

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PubMed 36458895

DOI 10.1111/mec.16802

Crossref 10.1111/mec.16802

Dryad: 10.5061/dryad.7m0cfxpzj

Publications 9.5.0