Dating the Genetic Bottleneck of the African Cheetah

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Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Vol: 90, Issue: 8, Page: 3172-3176

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Menotti-Raymond, Marilyn; O'Brien, Stephen J.
DNA fingerprint; mtDNA; Genetics and Genomics; Life Sciences; Zoology
article description
The cheetah is unusual among felids in exhibiting near genetic uniformity at a variety of loci previously screened to measure population genetic diversity. It has been hypothesized that a demographic crash or population bottleneck in the recent history of the species is causal to the observed monomorphic profiles for nuclear coding loci. The timing of a bottleneck is difficult to assess, but certain aspects of the cheetah's natural history suggest it may have occurred near the end of the last ice age (late Pleistocene, approximately 10,000 years ago), when a remarkable extinction of large vertebrates occurred on several continents. To further define the timing of such a bottleneck, the character of genetic diversity for two rapidly evolving DNA sequences, mitochondrial DNA and hypervariable minisatellite loci, was examined. Moderate levels of genetic diversity were observed for both of these indices in surveys of two cheetah subspecies, one from South Africa and one from East Africa. Back calculation from the extent of accumulation of DNA diversity based on observed mutation rates for VNTR (variable number of tandem repeats) loci and mitochondrial DNA supports a hypothesis of an ancient Pleistocene bottleneck that rendered the cheetah depauperate in genetic variation for nuclear coding loci but would allow sufficient time for partial reconstitution of more rapidly evolving genomic DNA segments.