Rare alleles, MHC and captive breeding.

P. W. Hedrick, P. S. Miller

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

21 Scopus citations


In recent years, more detailed genetic information has become available for individuals of endangered species in captive breeding programs. There have been suggestions that this information be used to identify rare alleles, particularly those at the MHC, that can be subsequently selected for captive breeding programs. First, we summarize the current information on the MHC relevant to conservation genetics, so that such a possible breeding program is seen in a proper perspective. For example, very few specific alleles at the MHC have been identified as selectively advantageous, even though there has been substantial effort to find such alleles in humans and a few other organisms. Further, many of the balancing selection models suggested for MHC variation are based on heterozygotes in general having a higher fitness than homozygotes and not on specific selectively advantageous alleles. Because there is no detailed data on MHC variability in captive populations, we used transferrin data in Przewalski's horses to evaluate a breeding program to select for rare alleles. In this species, one individual, 1060, has been identified to have the transferrin allele J. We determine the effect on founder contribution of multiply mating 1060 to increase the number of copies of this allele. Since there were 485 individuals in the population at this time, this extra mating had little detrimental effect on the distribution of founder contributions and the number of founder equivalents. We then selected 65, an ancestor of 1060, which had a high likelihood of being the individual that passed on the J allele in the lineage of 1060. We examined the effect of increasing the number of copies of alleles of 65 at a time when the population had only 22 other individuals. In this case, even though the founder contributions were changed more, there was also little effect on the founder contributions and the number of founder equivalents. Overall, it appears that selection that results in a limited change in the number of copies of rare alleles may not always have an overall detrimental effect. However, because other pedigrees may have very different properties, it is essential to perform a detailed pedigree analysis of any such selective breeding program to determine its effect before such a selection program is implemented.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationEXS
Number of pages18
StatePublished - 1994

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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