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Genes of the black sheep studied

Last changed: 28 January 2020

By studying genes associated with coat colour, we can understand the role of these genes in pigmentation but also gain insight into selection history. North European short‐tailed sheep, including Swedish breeds, have variation in their coat colour, making them good models to expand current knowledge of mutations associated with coat colour in sheep.

We studied ASIP and MC1R, two genes with known roles in pigmentation, and their association with black coat colour. We did this by sequencing the coding regions of ASIP in 149 animals and MC1R in 129 animals from seven native Swedish sheep breeds in individuals with black, white or grey fleece.

Previously known mutations in ASIP [recessive black allele: g.100_105del (D5) and/or g.5172T>A] were associated with black coat colour in Klövsjö and Roslag sheep breeds and mutations in both ASIP and MC1R (dominant black allele: c.218T>A and/or c.361G>A) were associated with black coat colour in Swedish Finewool. In Gotland, Gute, Värmland and Helsinge sheep breeds, coat colour inheritance was more complex: only 11 of 16 individuals with black fleece had genotypes that could explain their black colour. These breeds have grey individuals in their populations, and grey is believed to be a result of mutations and allelic copy number variation within the ASIP duplication, which could be a possible explanation for the lack of a clear inheritance pattern in these breeds. Finally, we found a novel missense mutation in MC1R (c.452G>A) in Gotland, Gute and Värmland sheep and evidence of a duplication of MC1R in Gotland sheep.

Link to the publication


Rochus CM, Westberg Sunesson K, Jonas E, Mikko S, Johansson AM. Mutations in ASIP and MC1R: dominant black and recessive black alleles segregate in native Swedish sheep populations. Anim Genet. 2019 Sep 2. doi: 10.1111/age.12837. [Epub ahead of print]