The potential of VKORC1 polymorphisms in Mustelidae for evolving anticoagulant resistance through selection along the food chain
In response to strong selection, new mutations can arise quickly and sweep through populations, particularly, if survival and reproduction depend on certain allele copies for adaptation to rapidly changing environments, like resistance against deadly diseases or strong toxins. Since the 1950s, resistance to anticoagulant rodenticides in several rodents has emerged through single nucleotide mutations in the vitamin-K-epoxid-reductase-complex-subunit-1 (VKORC1) gene, often located in its exon 3. Detection of high prevalence and concentrations of anticoagulant rodenticides in non-target vertebrates, including carnivorous Mustelidae, let us assume that secondary exposure by feeding on poisoned prey may also cause selection along the food chain and we hypothesized that VKORC1-based resistance might also have evolved in rodents’ predators. Using newly-developed mustelid-specific primers for direct sequencing of genomic DNA, we studied VKORC1-DNA-polymorphisms in 115 mustelids of five species (Martes martes, M. foina, Mustela nivalis, M. erminea, M. putorius), obtained from northern Denmark, yielding six sites with nonsynonymous and several synonymous amino acid polymorphisms in exon 3. Comparison of these VKORC1-genotypes with hepatic rodenticide residues (obtained by HPLC combined with fluorescence or mass spectrometry) in 83 individuals (except M. martes), using generalized linear models, suggested that anticoagulant levels depended on species and specific polymorphisms. Although most VKORC-1 polymorphisms may present standing genetic variation, some are situated in resistance-mediating membrane parts of the VKORC1-encoded protein, and might be a result of selection due to exposure to anticoagulant poisons. Our new molecular markers might allow detecting indirect effects of anticoagulant rodenticides on rodent predator populations in the future.