Characterising functionally important and ecologically meaningful genetic diversity using a candidate gene approach

Stuart B. Piertney*, Lucy M. I. Webster

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)


Over the past two decades the fields of molecular ecology and population genetics have been dominated by the use of putatively neutral DNA markers, primarily to resolve spatio-temporal patterns of genetic variation to inform our understanding of population structure, gene flow and pedigree. Recent emphasis in comparative functional genomics, however, has fuelled a resurgence of interest in functionally important genetic variation that underpins phenotypic traits of adaptive or ecological significance. It may prove a major challenge to transfer genomics information from classical model species to examine functional diversity in non-model species in natural populations, but already multiple gene-targeted candidate loci with major effect on phenotype and fitness have been identified. Here we briefly describe some of the research strategies used for isolating and characterising functional genetic diversity at candidate gene-targeted loci, and illustrate the efficacy of some of these approaches using our own studies on red grouse (Lagopus lagopus scoticus). We then review how candidate gene markers have been used to: (1) quantify genetic diversity among populations to identify those depauperate in genetic diversity and requiring specific management action; (2) identify the strength and mode of selection operating on individuals within natural populations; and (3) understand direct mechanistic links between allelic variation at single genes and variance in individual fitness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)419-432
Number of pages14
Issue number4
Early online date21 Sept 2008
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2010


  • candidate gene
  • genomics
  • MHC
  • MC1R
  • grouse
  • conservation genetics
  • major histocompatibility complex
  • nonsynonymous substitution rates
  • full-length CDNA
  • class-I MHC
  • natural-selection
  • gastrointestinal nematodes
  • nucleotide polymorphisms
  • Population genomics
  • parasite resistance
  • balancing selection


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