On Wednesday the 14th of October 2020, Chiara Bortoluzzi will defend her PhD thesis at Wageningen University & Research, entitled “Using whole-genome sequencing data for demographic and functional evaluations of small managed populations".
Chiara Bortoluzzi used whole-genome sequence data of a variety of local chicken breeds to provide an in-depth analysis of the genome-wide patterns of diversity in small populations. The thesis provides a detailed example of how genomes are affected by demographic bottlenecks, genetic drift and selection. She demonstrates that changes in breeding preferences generated signs of recent inbreeding and reduced diversity, but also novel and identifiable variation. Interestingly, the genetic basis of some of these distinct phenotypes has evolved in other bird species through parallel evolution despite their deep evolutionary divergence from chicken.
The results of this thesis stress that the outstanding diversity harboured by local chicken breeds can only be preserved in the near future if conservation programmes become genomics-informed. By means of genomic data, we can better control for deleterious alleles, while increasing diversity. Overall, genetic diversity should be characterized from both a demographic and functional perspective to best manage populations and resources.
The work presented in this thesis was funded by the European Union's Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under the Grant Agreement no. 677353 (Innovative Management of Animal Genetic Resources – IMAGE.