No evidence for a role of MHC class II genotype in the chemical encoding of heterozygosity and relatedness in Antarctic fur seals

Despite decades of research, surprisingly little is known about the mechanism(s) by which an individual's genotype is encoded in odour. Many studies have focused on the role of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) owing to its importance for survival and mate choice. However, the salience of MHC-mediated odours compared to chemicals influenced by the rest of the genome remains unclear, especially in wild populations where it is challenging to quantify and control for the effects of the genomic background. We addressed this issue in Antarctic fur seals by analysing skin swabs together with full-length MHC DQB II exon 2 sequences and data from 41 genome-wide distributed microsatellites. We did not find any effects of MHC relatedness on chemical similarity and there was also no relationship between MHC heterozygosity and chemical diversity. However, multilocus heterozygosity showed a significant positive association with chemical diversity, even after controlling for MHC heterozygosity. Our results appear to rule out a dominant role of the MHC in the chemical encoding of genetic information in a wild vertebrate population and highlight the need for genome-wide approaches to elucidate the mechanism(s) and specific genes underlying genotype-odour associations.


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Authors: Tebbe, J., Havenstein, K., Forcada, J. ORCIDORCID record for J. Forcada, Tiedemann, R., Caspers, B., Hoffman, J.I. ORCIDORCID record for J.I. Hoffman

On this site: Jaume Forcada
27 March, 2024
Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, B / 291
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