Genomic structure in a global collection of domesticated sheep reveals a history of artificial selection for horn loss and traits relating to pigmentation, reproduction, and body size.
Through their domestication and subsequent selection, sheep have been adapted to thrive in a diverse range of environments. To characterise the genetic consequence of both domestication and selection, we genotyped 49,034 SNP in 2,819 animals from a diverse collection of 74 sheep breeds. We find the majority of sheep populations contain high SNP diversity and have retained an effective population size much higher than most cattle or dog breeds, suggesting domestication occurred from a broad genetic base. Extensive haplotype sharing and generally low divergence time between breeds reveal frequent genetic exchange has occurred during the development of modern breeds. A scan of the genome for selection signals revealed 31 regions containing genes for coat pigmentation, skeletal morphology, body size, growth, and reproduction. We demonstrate the strongest selection signal has occurred in response to breeding for the absence of horns. The high density map of genetic variability provides an in-depth view of the genetic history for this important livestock species.
During the process of domestication, mankind recruited animals from the wild into a captive environment, changing their morphology, behaviour, and genetics. In the case of sheep, domestication and subsequent selection by their animal handlers over thousands of years has produced a spectrum of breeds specialised for the production of wool, milk, and meat. We sought to use this population history to search for the genes that directly underpin phenotypic variation. We collected DNA from 2,819 sheep, belonging to 74 breeds sampled from around the world, and assessed the genotype of each animal at nearly 50,000 locations across the genome. Our results show that sheep breeds have maintained high levels of genetic diversity, in contrast to other domestic animals such as dogs. We also show that particular regions of the genome contain strong evidence for accelerated change in response to artificial selection. The most prominent example was identified in response to breeding for the absence of horns, a trait now common across many modern breeds. Furthermore, we demonstrate that other genomic regions under selection in sheep contain genes controlling pigmentation, reproduction, and body size.