A set of eleven pig breeds originating from six European countries, and including a small sample of wild pigs, was chosen for this study of genetic diversity. Diversity was evaluated on the basis of 18 microsatellite markers typed over a total of 483 DNA samples collected. Average breed heterozygosity varied from 0.35 to 0.60. Genotypic frequencies generally agreed with Hardy-Weinberg expectations, apart from the German Landrace and Schwäbisch-Hällisches breeds, which showed significantly reduced heterozygosity. Breed differentiation was significant as shown by the high among-breed fixation index (overall FST = 0.27), and confirmed by the clustering based on the genetic distances between individuals, which grouped essentially all individuals in 11 clusters corresponding to the 11 breeds. The genetic distances between breeds were first used to construct phylogenetic trees. The trees indicated that a genetic drift model might explain the divergence of the two German breeds, but no reliable phylogeny could be inferred among the remaining breeds. The same distances were also used to measure the global diversity of the set of breeds considered, and to evaluate the marginal loss of diversity attached to each breed. In that respect, the French Basque breed appeared to be the most "unique" in the set considered. This study, which remains to be extended to a larger set of European breeds, indicates that using genetic distances between breeds of farm animals in a classical taxonomic approach may not give clear resolution, but points to their usefulness in a prospective evaluation of diversity.
Keywords:genetic diversity; molecular marker; conservation; pig; European breed
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