MHC variability in heritage breeds of chickens

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The chicken Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) is very strongly associated with disease resistance and thus is a very important region of the chicken genome. Historically, MHC (B locus) has been identified by the use of serology with haplotype specific alloantisera. These antisera can be difficult to produce and frequently cross-react with multiple haplotypes and hence their application is generally limited to inbred and MHC-defined lines. As a consequence, very little information about MHC variability in heritage chicken breeds is available. DNA-based methods are now available for examining MHC variability in these previously uncharacterized populations. A high density SNP panel consisting of 101 SNP that span a 230,000 bp region of the chicken MHC was used to examine MHC variability in 17 heritage populations of chickens from five universities from Canada and the United States. The breeds included 6 heritage broiler lines, 3 Barred Plymouth Rock, 2 New Hampshire and one each of Rhode Island Red, Light Sussex, White Leghorn, Dark Brown Leghorn, and 2 synthetic lines. These heritage breeds contained from one to 11 haplotypes per line. A total of 52 unique MHC haplotypes were found with only 10 of them identical to serologically defined haplotypes. Furthermore, nine MHC recombinants with their respective parental haplotypes were identified. This survey confirms the value of these non-commercially utilized lines in maintaining genetic diversity. The identification of multiple MHC haplotypes and novel MHC recombinants indicates that diversity is being generated and maintained within these heritage populations.

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