Patterns of genetic and genomic variance are informative in inferring population history for human, model species and endangered populations.
Here the genome sequence of wild-born African cheetahs reveals extreme genomic depletion in SNV incidence, SNV density, SNVs of coding genes, MHC class I and II genes, and mitochondrial DNA SNVs. Cheetah genomes are on average 95 % homozygous compared to the genomes of the outbred domestic cat (24.08 % homozygous), Virunga Mountain Gorilla (78.12 %), inbred Abyssinian cat (62.63 %), Tasmanian devil, domestic dog and other mammalian species. Demographic estimators impute two ancestral population bottlenecks: one >100,000 years ago coincident with cheetah migrations out of the Americas and into Eurasia and Africa, and a second 11,084–12,589 years ago in Africa coincident with late Pleistocene large mammal extinctions. MHC class I gene loss and dramatic reduction in functional diversity of MHC genes would explain why cheetahs ablate skin graft rejection among unrelated individuals. Significant excess of non-synonymous mutations in AKAP4 (p<0.02), a gene mediating spermatozoon development, indicates cheetah fixation of five function-damaging amino acid variants distinct from AKAP4 homologues of other Felidae or mammals; AKAP4 dysfunction may cause the cheetah’s extremely high (>80 %) pleiomorphic sperm.
The study provides an unprecedented genomic perspective for the rare cheetah, with potential relevance to the species’ natural history, physiological adaptations and unique reproductive disposition.