Pixabay, close up of dog

Ever wonder why some dogs have such unique spotted coats? Officials from Embark Veterinary, a company specializing in dog genetics, may have the answer: gene duplication.

Specifically, the uniquely spotted coat of dogs like German Shorthair Pointers, Australian Dogs and other breeds known as “roaning,” is strongly associated with a genomic region on chromosome 38 and likely regulated by the usherin gene (USH2A). Results of the study were recently published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS One. Testing for this genetic trait is only available through Embark’s dog DNA tests, according to officials.

The finding, officials said, may be particularly helpful to breeders of hunting dogs because roaning in a dog’s coat offers natural camouflage.

“Additionally, roaned coat patterns are highly coveted by breeders, as the American Kennel Club (AKC) has listed roaned patterns as a preferred standard for certain breeds,” officials added. “Breeders can now plan for this result in their litters and better understand their existing pedigrees using Embark’s new test.”

The results of the study may also shed light on the genetic origin of the Dalmatian’s unique spots, officials said. While historically, the spots on Dalmatians have been considered different from roaning patterns, all Dalmatians in the Embark study carried the duplication embedded in an identical stretch of DNA sequences in the same section of chromosome as roaned dogs, officials said.

“This type of genetic duplication has a huge impact in changing coat patterns and other phenotypic traits,” said Adam Boyko, Embark co-founder, chief science officer and a senior author of the study. “While educating and helping dog owners better understand their pups through our DNA kits is central to our business, we actively pursue novel research to make progress to deepen that knowledge. This roan finding is proof of that commitment.”

Embark leveraged citizen science to collect phenotype data from tens of thousands of dog owners and apply it to the research efforts, officials said. Embark customers contributed to this study by choosing to provide photographs of their dogs to the platform, from which Embark classified their phenotypes as ticked, roaned or lacking these patterns, officials added.

Moving forward, all of Embark’s Breed + Health Kits and Embark for Breeders Test Kits will include the results for roaning, according to officials.

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