Trait genomics of deer - what islands can reveal

Deer are ubiquitous in North America numbering close to 30 million. Despite being both an economically and ecologically valued species, little is know about the genetic basis of deer traits.
Trait genomics of deer - what islands can reveal
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Here is a little known fact: there are two islands, St-Pierre & Miquelon, that  are part of France but situated 10 km off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada -> learn more hereYou can thank me later when this comes up at your next Trivia. Europeans have been frequenting the islands, because of the fishing and protected harbour, since the mid 1500s.  The islands were also made famous (or infamous) for their role in bootlegging during prohibition AND were featured in the last season of Peaky Blinders.  But our paper wasn't about bootlegging and obscure North American geography, rather it was about the genetic basis of traits in white-tailed deer. 

Deer were introduced to Miquelon in the early 1950s.  Over time they dispersed across the island and population numbers  grew. The landscape is rugged and fairly unique for white-tailed deer:

Hunters started observing  a relatively high number of animals with maloclussions (over/under bite) and leucism (patchy loss of pigment on the body) and local wildlife managers became concerned about genetic diversity and inbreeding. This is where my lab comes in. As part of her undergraduate thesis, Brooklyn Cars was tasked with assaying the genomic diveristy of the population.   Because of the emergence of the aforementioned traits and a very supportive hunting community,  we also wanted to to take advantage of island-wide sampling to identify the genes underlying  maloclussion and leucism.  Recognizing both traits are likely recessive, we used whole genome sequencing and a pseudo case-control design to identify inbred segments (i.e. runs of homozygosity) found only in animals displaying leucism or maloclussions.  We identified two clear candidate genes: LAMTOR2 which has a known connection to melanocytes, and NPVF which is linked to craniofacial abnormalities in mice and humans.  Next steps are to design and assay to genotype and validate these markers. Some other cool stuff was done in the paper, but you'll have to read the full article!

 In September of 2024 we flew to the islands and presented the results to the community of St-Pierre & Miquelon.  The islands have a feeling of being stuck in time - check out this old-school theatre where we presented our findings:

That said, you'll find all the luxuries of France (cheese!), but the charm and history of Atlantic Canada.  The people are amazing and the hospitality is second to none (merci pour tout Daniel!). And the deer, well genome-wide they show no strong signals of of inbreeding.  The prevalence of the two traits is simply reflective of a founder effect. No population augmention is required and continued genetic monitoring is recommended.

One final pitch to visit the islands (for the deer) - this is how you get to the ferry to return to St-Pierre from Miquelon:

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