Genomics of Antler Size in Whitetail Deer
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The genotypic factors that affect antler size in whitetail deer are currently unknown. Environmental factors, such as nutrition, have been studied and have been shown to affect antler size, but the role of genomic variation is not yet understood. In this project, whole genome sequencing is being utilized to examine patterns of variation in whitetail deer individuals selected for below average, as well as significantly above average terminal antler size, from a closed breeding population. The loci found to be present with drastically different allele frequencies will be documented and functionally characterized. Any variation that is specifically associated with either the below average or the above average antler size population can be concluded to be the underlying genetic mechanisms resulting in the different phenotypes. Whitetail deer have great economic value in Texas, home of the largest deer breeding and hunting industry in the US and contribute 1.6 billion dollars annually25. There is potential for expanded use of whitetail deer antlers because of the unique properties of these structures. This research will allow us to identify genes and genomic variation that influence antler size in whitetail deer in order to explore the uses of antlers in research, in industry, and in clinical settings. Antlers are unique, regenerative organs and it is important to understand the mechanisms underlying significant differences in antler growth rate and total antler size to find uses in science and medicine. There is great potential in using antlers as research models and this knowledge will improve our understanding of the control of phenotypic expression. Improving our knowledge of antlers would only improve our understanding of osteogenesis, musculoskeletal disorders, morphogenesis, positional memory of cells, and the endocrine system. Studying antlers is even relevant to cancer because of the low incidence tumors despite the high rates of cell division that are required to regenerate the antlers each year. The research, industrial, and medical uses of antlers are numerous, but efficient utilization can only be achieved after understanding the underlying, genotypic mechanisms.
Hodge, McKaela Autumn (2019). Genomics of Antler Size in Whitetail Deer. Undergraduate Research Scholars Program. Available electronically from