Heterozygote advantage: The effect of artificial selection in livestock and pets

Philip W. Hedrick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


There are a number of mutants in livestock and pets that have a heterozygote advantage because of artificial selection for these mutants in heterozygotes and strong detrimental effects from natural selection in homozygotes. In livestock, these mutants include ones that influence milk yield in dairy cattle, fecundity in sheep, litter size in pigs, muscling in beef cattle, color in horses, lean meat content in pigs, and comb morphology in chickens. In pets, these mutants include ones that influence tail length in cats and hairlessness, muscling, color, or ridgeback hair in dogs. A large variety of mutants are responsible, including small or large deletions or insertions and single base-pair nonsynonymous changes. Many of the mutants cause loss of function for the genes involved, a change that results in the pleiotropic effects of a desired phenotype in heterozygotes and low fitness or an undesirable phenotype in mutant homozygotes. I examine how selection changes the frequency of these mutants and provide an approach to estimate the amount of artificial selection that is necessary to maintain these mutants at the high frequencies often observed. The amount of artificial selection ranges from low selection favoring heterozygotes for double muscling in whippet dogs to very strong selection favoring the "flash" (part white, part solid) heterozygote in boxer dogs and the rose comb in chickens. In several examples (rose comb in Wyandotte chickens and the hair ridge in Rhodesian ridgeback dogs), there is actually stronger selection for the mutant than against it, making the frequency of the mutant greater than 50%.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)141-154
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Heredity
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2015


  • Heterozygote advantage
  • Lethal
  • Mutant
  • Overdominance
  • Pleiotropy
  • Selection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)


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