Using the Mus musculus hybrid zone to assess covariation and genetic architecture of limb bone lengths

Neva Škrabar, Leslie M. Turner, Luisa F. Pallares, Bettina Harr, Diethard Tautz

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Two subspecies of the house mouse, Mus musculus domesticus and Mus musculus musculus, meet in a narrow contact zone across Europe. Mice in the hybrid zone are highly admixed, representing the full range of mixed ancestry from the two subspecies. Given the distinct morphologies of these subspecies, these natural hybrids can be used for genomewide association mapping at sufficiently high resolution to directly infer candidate genes. We focus here on limb bone length differences, which is of special interest for understanding the evolution of developmentally correlated traits. We used 172 first-generation descendants of wild-caught mice from the hybrid zone to measure the length of stylopod (humerus/femur), zeugopod (ulna/tibia) and autopod (metacarpal/metatarsal) elements in skeletal CT scans. We find phenotypic covariation between limb elements in the hybrids similar to patterns previously described in Mus musculus domesticus inbred strains, suggesting that the hybrid genotypes do not influence the covariation pattern in a major way. Mapping was performed using 143,592 SNPs and identified several genomic regions associated with length differences in each bone. Bone length was found to be highly polygenic. None of the candidate regions include the canonical genes known to control embryonic limb development. Instead, we are able to identify candidate genes with known roles in osteoblast differentiation and bone structure determination, as well as recently evolved genes of, as yet, unknown function.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)908-921
Number of pages14
JournalMolecular Ecology Resources
Issue number4
Early online date9 Mar 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2018


  • Ecological genetics
  • Hybrid zone
  • Limbs
  • Mapping
  • Quantitative genetics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics


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