Mammalian Genome

, Volume 24, Issue 3, pp 134-141

First online:

Sequence analysis of three pigmentation genes in the Newfoundland population of Canis latrans links the Golden Retriever Mc1r variant to white coat color in coyotes

  • Ryan M. BrockervilleAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, Memorial University of Newfoundland
  • , Michael J. McGrathAffiliated withWildlife Division, Department of Environment and Conservation, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador
  • , Brettney L. PilgrimAffiliated withGenomics and Proteomics Laboratory, CREAIT Network, Memorial University of Newfoundland
  • , H. Dawn MarshallAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, Memorial University of Newfoundland Email author 

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Three genes, Mc1r, Agouti, and CBD103, interact in a type-switching process that controls much of the pigmentation variation observed in mammals. A deletion in the CBD103 gene is responsible for dominant black color in dogs, while the white-phased black bear (“spirit bear”) of British Columbia, Canada, is the lightest documented color variant caused by a mutation in Mc1r. Rare all-white animals have recently been discovered in a new northeastern population of the coyote in insular Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. To investigate the causative gene and mutation of white coat in coyotes, we sequenced the three type-switching genes in white and dark-phased animals from Newfoundland. The only sequence variants unambiguously associated with white color were in Mc1r, and one of these variants causes the amino acid variant R306Ter, a premature stop codon also linked to coat color in Golden Retrievers and other dogs with yellow/red coats. The allele carrying R306Ter in coyotes matches that in the Golden Retriever at other variable amino acid sites and hence may have originated in these dogs. Coyotes experienced introgression with wolves and dogs as they colonized northeastern North America, and coyote/Golden Retriever interactions have been observed in Newfoundland. We speculate that natural selection, with or without a founder effect, may contribute to the observed frequency of white coyotes in Newfoundland, as it has contributed to the high frequency of white bears, and of a domestic dog-derived CBD allele in gray wolves.