Genetic mutations in Pekin ducks, which are associated with their white feathers and large size are identified in an analysis published this week in Nature Communications. The findings provide insights into the genetic basis of some of the characteristics of Pekin ducks that have been selected for over hundreds of years.
Following the domestication of mallards in 500 BC in central China, various diverse indigenous duck breeds developed including the Pekin duck, which has undergone intensive artificial selection over several hundred years. However, the genetic changes contributing to some of the desirable characteristics associated with Pekin ducks, such as their white feathers and rate of growth, had not been identified.
Shuisheng Hou, Yu Jiang and colleagues compared the genomes of 40 mallards, 36 ducks from 12 indigenous breeds to China (including the Shaoxing duck and Gaoyou duck), and 30 Pekin ducks. After identifying signals of selection, the authors bred a large population of 1,026 ducks by intercrossing mallards and Pekin ducks. By studying this group, they identified two genetic mutations in Pekin ducks that are associated with their white down feathers, large body size and increased feed efficiency. They found that a mutation in a gene called MITF accounted for white down feathers, and a separate mutation possibly led to the continuous expression of the IGF2BP1 gene after birth, resulting in increased meat production.