How to build a black dog

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I’ve mentioned the emergence of the dog as a model organism in genetics– the resources available now have made all sorts of questions easy (well, not easy, but comparatively easy) to answer. One such question: what makes certain breeds of dog black? The answer is now available online at Science: a small deletion in a gene called CDB103.

The gene is interesting because it encodes a novel ligand for MC1R, mutations in which cause red hair in humans (and lighter fur in mammoths). The melanocortin pathway seems to be polymorphic in all mammals studied, perhaps due to similar selective pressures on coat/hair color.

The authors have a neat picture of mice they turned black by inserting copies of the variant allele, which raises the question: can any dog breed be turned black? And if so, how much will people pay for it?

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  1. Isn’t the dog an atypical species?

  2. not in terms of coat pattern genetics.

  3. Isn’t the dog an atypical species? 
    ha. yeah, probably :)

  4. MC1R is also expressed in the brain (at least in humans), resulting in differences in pain sensitivity and perhaps temperament. Is this ligand/defensin/what-have-you also found in the brain? Would the binding there have effects beyond coat color? I would assume so. There’s a FAQ for Labrador Retriever coat color which dismisses the supposed folk wisdom that Black Labs are better hunters, but it sounds like the folk wisdom might be right.

  5. How about red dogs? MC1R?

  6. Thanks, p-ter. 
    So it should be a no-brainer to breed, say, a red poodle.

  7. hm, I don’t know that the reason for a white coat is fully known. If it’s downstream of mc1r (ie. if it’s a loss of function in some protein necessary for transporting melanin to the skin, like in some forms of albinism), you’d have to get a functioning version of that gene, then the relevant mc1r allele. once the genes are known, then it should be a pretty easy breeding scheme (or, if germ-line engineering in the dog takes off, a few years of playing around).

  8. So it should be a no-brainer to breed, say, a red poodle. 
    You’re late – see Google :) 
    As for how much people would pay, not every single breed is “available” in black, but I can’t think of any body type of dog where there’s a glaring lack of black options. The most dramatic things would be something like a black Irish setter – meh. To be able to have a different-colour clone of your dog would be something else. Or how about a dog coloured like a silver fox or an African wild dog?