Studies on genes associated with coat colour and fertility in Swedish sheep breeds

Last changed: 23 February 2015

We have been able to collect samples from all 13 Swedish sheep breeds. We are currently analysing the genetic variation and the relationships between breeds using these samples.

The samples are also used to analyse genes for coat colour and fertility. Anna M Johansson is the leader of the project and she is also the supervisor of Christina Rochus, a PhD student from the EGS-ABG program who is working with the project. Christina is using the samples to analyse the coat colour genes with the aim to identify the genes relevant for the various colour patterns in the Swedish sheep breeds. She further uses data from Swedish sheep to analyse inbreeding and relationships within that breed.

The project is conducted in collaboration with other researchers, including Sofia Mikko, Göran Andersson, and Elisabeth Jonas at the same department, as well as Emma Svensson from the Department of Ecology and Genetics, Evolutionary Biology at Uppsala University. Further collaborators are Gwenola Tosser-Klopp and Bertrand Servin from INRA Toulouse in France and Emma Eythorsdottir at The Agricultural University of Iceland.

The project was initiated by the late Anna Näsholm (SLU).

Coat colour

A number of genes have been identified which influence the coat colour in sheep. Two of the genes have been sequenced in five Swedish sheep breeds. Parts of the study have been presented at an international conference in Canada by Christina Rochus titled “ASIP and MC1R Mutations Causing Black Coat Colour in Five Swedish Sheep Breeds”. The genetic variation in two genes (ASIP and MC1R) was investigated in past and present sheep on Gotland in the thesis of Kristina Westberg Sunesson.  

We will further study more sheep with a black, white or grey coat colour. The aim is to identify which changes in genes lead to changes of the coat colour, especially differences of sheep with black or grey coat colour. We will also study sheep from Iceland.


Some sheep breeds lamb only in spring (seasonal), while others may lamb any time of the year (aseasonal). A study has shown that a gene (MTNR1A) has an effect on this trait. Alexander Falk studied the effect of the gene in three Swedish sheep breeds in his thesis “Variation in frequency of alleles in the MTNR1A gene with possible impact on ability of ewes to show oestrus out of season”. The gene (MTNR1A) was sequenced as a follow-up of the study.

Grants and support

Research on sheep at Hgen is currently funded by:

- KSLA (Kungl. Skogs- och lantbruksakademien).

- Erik Philip-Sörensens stiftelse

- föreningen Gutefåret (and Jordbruksverket)

- Europeiska forskarskolan EGS-ABG.