This study investigates the genetic diversity and the structure of the most dominant native fat-tailed Tunisian sheep breed (Barbarine, BAR) using microsatellite markers. Blood samples from 183 BAR animals, belonging to 4 subpopulations according to phenotypic traits, were collected across all regions in Tunisia. BAR animals and 31 Appenninica Italian sheep breed (APP) used as an out-group were genotyped at 17 microsatellites loci. A total of 270 alleles were identified with average gene diversity equal to 0.812. The mean observed heterozygosity (0.745) and allelic richness (8.09) estimates were high within BAR breed highlighting notable levels of genetic diversity. The low FIS (0.078) and FIT (0.084) values indicate low level of inbreeding within this breed while a low FST estimate (0.007) shows that the subpopulations are not genetically differentiated. The clustering analysis performed with ‘structure’ detected the absence of substructures and the clear uniqueness of the BAR. Tomiuk and Loeschcke’s DTL genetic distance values conﬁrmed the distinction between APP and BAR breeds. Results arising from our microsatellites analysis represent a starting point for the valorization of this indigenous Tunisian sheep breed. A suggestion was made to monitor its genetic variability and for the preservation of this breed for the next generations.
Key words: Tunisian Barbarine sheep breed, microsatellite markers, genetic variability, population structure.
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