The present study was conducted to assess the genetic diversity and population genetic structure of three sheep populations namely; Sawakni (SW), Berberi (BR) and Najdi (NJ), in Saudi Arabia, utilizing 45, 18 and 31 individual blood DNA extractions, respectively. Seventeen microsatellite markers were used to genotype these 94 sheep individuals. There were 195 alleles generated employing the 17 microsatellites loci with a mean of 11.47 alleles per locus, with a range of observed and expected heterozygosity from 0.651 to 0.989 and 0.590 to 0.816, respectively. The total number of alleles of 169, 127 and 111, and their means of effective number of alleles of 4.983, 4.192 and 3.781 were observed in SW, BR and NJ populations, respectively. Thirteen of the microsatellites loci studied in SW, seven loci in BR and five loci in NJ were found to be deviated from Hardy-Weinberg Equilibrium. The fixation genetic indices (FST) among the three populations were very low, ranging from 0.029 (between SW and BR) to 0.038 (between NJ and BR), indicating low population differentiation among the three sheep populations. The present study showed that the microsatellite markers are powerful tools in breeding programs, however more microsatellites may be needed for a broad judgment on the genetic status of the sheep populations in Saudi Arabia.
Key words: DNA, genetics, microsatellite, Saudi sheep.
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