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.
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We are grateful to Rick Curran and local hunters and trappers for provision, characterization, and cataloguing of specimens. Dr. Edward Miller and Paul Pitts provided assistance with obtaining tissue samples and DNA extraction. Much of the laboratory work, including all the DNA sequencing, was performed in the Genomics and Proteomics Facility of Memorial University of Newfoundland’s CREAIT Network. Dr. Elizabeth Perry of the GaP Facility was available for numerous enlightening discussions about coyotes. Two anonymous reviewers also provided many insightful comments.
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Brockerville, R.M., McGrath, M.J., Pilgrim, B.L. et al. 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. Mamm Genome 24, 134–141 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00335-012-9443-x
- Coat Color
- Gray Wolf
- Mc1r Gene
- Golden Retriever
- Mc1r Variant