Domestication has changed the natural evolutionary trajectory of horses by favoring the reproduction of a limited number of animals showing traits of interest. Reduced breeding stocks hampered the elimination of deleterious variants by means of negative selection, ultimately inflating mutational loads. However, ancient genomics revealed that mutational loads remained steady during most of the domestication history until a sudden burst took place some 250 years ago. To identify the factors underlying this trajectory, we gather an extensive dataset consisting of 175 modern and 153 ancient genomes previously published, and carry out the most comprehensive characterization of deleterious mutations in horses. We confirm that deleterious variants segregated at low frequencies during the last 3500 years, and only spread and incremented their occurrence in the homozygous state during modern times, owing to inbreeding. This independently happened in multiple breeds, following both the development of closed studs and purebred lines, and the deprecation of horsepower in the 20th century, which brought many draft breeds close to extinction. Our work illustrates the paradoxical effect of some conservation and improvement programs, which reduced the overall genomic fitness and viability.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited