Genomic Flatlining in the Endangered Island Fox

Journal: Current Biology

Published: 2016-04-21

DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2016.02.062

Affiliations: 5

Authors: 8

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Research Highlight

Island species outfoxes genetic fate

© Schafer & Hill / Moment Mobile / Getty

© Schafer & Hill / Moment Mobile / Getty

Housecat-sized Channel Island foxes are surprisingly healthy, given they have the lowest genetic variation in the animal kingdom, according to a study published in Current Biology.

The Channel Islands, off the coast of California are home to a ‘dwarf’ fox believed to have descended from the mainland grey fox. Having persisted for thousands of years at very small population sizes, they are a popular model for examining, in a natural environment, the effects of ‘deleterious mutations’ - genetic changes that increase susceptibility to diseases.

A team, including a researcher from Sichuan University, sequenced the complete set of DNA in foxes from six of the islands, including two foxes from San Nicolas and a mainland grey fox. Genomic variation is thought to be key to a species’ ability to withstand threats, yet the team found these foxes to be quite healthy - despite high levels of deleterious mutations and very low genetic variation. The San Nicolas Island foxes had effectively no genetic variation.

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  1. Current Biology 2016; 26, 1183–1189. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2016.02.062
Institutions Share
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), United States of America (USA) 0.71
Sichuan University (SCU), China 0.13
Princeton University, United States of America (USA) 0.13
UCLA Health, United States of America (USA) 0.04