To preserve sheep biodiversity is an important issue as the most productive breeds are becoming dependent on intensive management and breeders are abandoning the traditional breeds. The Cornigliese sheep is a local breed from Parma Apennine. In the last centuries it was crossed with Merino and Bergamasca breeds. The aim of this work is to investigate the genetic variability in the Cornigliese breed using 27 microsatellite markers. A total of 144 individual blood samples were randomly collected from the following breeds: Cornigliese, Bergamasca, Appenninica and Spanish Merino. The Palmera breed was used as out-group. A total of 344 alleles were detected. The average expected heterozygosity ranged from a maximum of 0.77 in Appenninica to a minimum of 0.68 in Bergamasca. In general,Cornigliese showed heterozygosity estimates less than expected. The Reynolds weighted genetic distance among the breeds highlighted a clear cluster, including Cornigliese and Bergamasca. As expected, they appeared in close neighbourhood in the tree because of the historic crossbreeding practices between these two breeds. Results of STRUCTURE analyses show that the four studied breeds were discriminated into separate clusters, even if Cornigliese has some individual related to Bergamasca and Spanish Merino. This work confirmed the historical information about the origin of Cornigliese breed which reports gene flow among these breeds. The genetic parameters show a moderate value of inbreeding in Cornigliese and therefore this breed should be monitored due the low number of individuals that compose it.
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