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Genome Biology and Evolution

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The Androgen-binding protein (Abp) gene region of the mouse genome contains 64 genes, some encoding pheromones that influence assortative mating between mice from different subspecies. Using CNVnator and quantitative PCR, we explored copy number variation in this gene family in natural populations of Mus musculus domesticus (Mmd) and Mus musculus musculus (Mmm), two subspecies of house mice that form a narrow hybrid zone in Central Europe. We found that copy number variation in the center of the Abp gene region is very common in wild Mmd, primarily representing the presence/absence of the final duplications described for the mouse genome. Clustering of Mmd individuals based on this variation did not reflect their geographical origin, suggesting no population divergence in the Abp gene cluster. However, copy number variation patterns differ substantially between Mmd and other mouse taxa. Large blocks of Abp genes are absent in Mmm, Mus musculus castaneus and an outgroup, Mus spretus, although with differences in variation and breakpoint locations. Our analysis calls into question the reliance on a reference genome for interpreting the detailed organization of genes in taxa more distant from the Mmd reference genome. The polymorphic nature of the gene family expansion in all four taxa suggests that the number of Abp genes, especially in the central gene region, is not critical to the survival and reproduction of the mouse. However, Abp haplotypes of variable length may serve as a source of raw genetic material for new signals influencing reproductive communication and thus speciation of mice.


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