Genetics of Coat Color in Cattle
a brief review of what is currently known about the genes controlling cattle coat colors and patterns, based primarily on DNA studies
This webpage was first mounted about 2002 and last updated on August 25, 2019 by Sheila Schmutz. Minor edits made 4 Feb 2021.
Coat color was very variable in early domesticated stocks. In many breeds, color became one of the traits under intense selection and ultimately color became part of the identity of many breeds. However in some older breeds, such as Highland and Longhorn, color has remained varied. The painting above hangs in the Department of Animal and Poultry Science in the Agriculture Building at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. We are proud to display this important documentation of our cattle heritage. It is entitled "Higland Cattle - By the Sea" and was painted by William Smellie Watson of Scotland in 1872, before the Highland cattle registry began. It was donated by Al Ewen, who retired as Head of the Department of Animal Husbandry in 1952 when he returned to Aberdeernshire, Scotland.
Coat color has fascinated animal breeders and geneticists for many, many years. Classic breeding experiments told us much about the inheritance of coat colors and patterns in the early to mid 1900's. Only in the last 5 years, have the underlying genes been discovered. Many are yet unknown. Several genes interact with each other to alter the shades of the basic colors. Other genes cause deviations from a solid colored body: roan, whiteface, spotting, color sided, to name a few.
Some colors have economic significance because they have pleiotropic effects (side effects) that can be deleterious. This is, in part, because the precusors to pigment cells are also the precursors to nerve cells. Other colors are just more popular in certain parts of the world so command higher prices even though no benefits or harmful effects have been proven.
This webpage is an attempt to summarize some of the current research being done in coat color. It represents the findings of many laboratories in many places. Whenever possible publications are listed documenting the research supporting the statements. Sometimes the work is not yet published but just the results of experiments in progress, discussions at meetings, or even just hypotheses. This has been included for the benefit of cattle breeders who are trying to utilize coat color as one of the goals in their breeding program. Any deviations from these therefore would be useful to researchers trying to understand the genes yet to be discovered. Please write therefore if your breeding contradicts something here!
|A agouti||ASIP||A, ABr||brindle (ABr/-); shading?||13||20q11|
|B brown||TYRP1||B, b||dun brown in Dexter (b/b)||8||9p23|
|C albino||TYR||C, c||albinisim in Braunvieh (c/c)||29||11|
|D "dilute"||PMEL||D, d||dun & silver dun, pale red in Highland & Galloway; another mutation in Charolais||5||-|
|MLPH||gray in Belgian Blue cattle||3||2q37|
|E extension||MC1R||ED, e, E+||black versus red||18||16q24|
|R roan/steel||KITLG/MGF||R, r||roan in cattle (R/r)||5||12q22|
|KIT||alleles not named||colored points||6q23||4q12|
Articles in the Popular Press
Coat Color Uncoded. Cattlemen magazine, January 1999 issue. Sheila Schmutz.
Coat Color and Its Ramifications. Simmental Country, January 1999 issue. Sheila Schmutz.
Links to Other Coat Color Sites
for further information contact:
Sheila M. Schmutz, Ph.D., Professor Emerita
Saskatoon, Canada S7N 5A8