Onset of Sexual Maturity in Female Chickens is Genetically Linked to Loci Associated with Fecundity and a Sexual Ornament

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ContentsOnset of sexual maturation is a trait of extreme importance both evolutionarily and economically. Unsurprisingly therefore, domestication has acted to reduce the time to sexual maturation in a variety of animals, including the chicken. In comparison with wild progenitor chickens [the Red Junglefowl (RJF)], domestic layer hens attain maturity approximately 20% earlier. In addition, domestic layers also possess larger combs (a sexual ornament), produce more eggs and have denser bones. A large quantitative trait loci (QTL) analysis (n = 377) was performed using an F2 intercross between a White Leghorn layer breed and a RJF population, with onset of sexual maturity measured and mapped to three separate loci. This cross has already been analysed for comb mass, egg production and bone allocation. Onset of sexual maturity significantly correlated with comb mass, whilst the genetic architecture for sexual maturity and comb mass overlapped at all three loci. For two of these loci, the QTL for sexual maturity and comb mass were statistically indistinguishable from pleiotropy, suggesting that the alleles that increase comb mass also decrease onset of sexual maturity.

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