Coat Variation in the Domestic Dog Is Governed by Variants in Three Genes

Science  02 Oct 2009:
Vol. 326, Issue 5949, pp. 150-153
DOI: 10.1126/science.1177808

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Dog Coats Shed Genetic Secrets

The coats of domestic dogs show great variation—long, short, straight, wavy, curly, wiry, or smooth. To investigate how this variation arises, Cadieu et al. (p. 150, published online 27 August) performed genome-wide association studies on 80 different dog breeds. The coat phenotype could be dissected into three simple traits of length, curl, and growth pattern or texture with each trait controlled by one major gene, FGF5 (fibroblast growth factor-5), KRT71 (keratin-71), and RSPO2 (R-spondin-2), respectively. In combination, variants in these three genes alone account for the vast majority of the coat phenotypes in purebred dogs in the United States. Thus, a small number of simply inherited traits can be remixed to create extraordinary phenotypic variation.


Coat color and type are essential characteristics of domestic dog breeds. Although the genetic basis of coat color has been well characterized, relatively little is known about the genes influencing coat growth pattern, length, and curl. We performed genome-wide association studies of more than 1000 dogs from 80 domestic breeds to identify genes associated with canine fur phenotypes. Taking advantage of both inter- and intrabreed variability, we identified distinct mutations in three genes, RSPO2, FGF5, and KRT71 (encoding R-spondin–2, fibroblast growth factor–5, and keratin-71, respectively), that together account for most coat phenotypes in purebred dogs in the United States. Thus, an array of varied and seemingly complex phenotypes can be reduced to the combinatorial effects of only a few genes.

  • * Present address: Genetics Navigenics, Foster City, CA 94404, USA.

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