Colours of domestication

Michael Cieslak, Monika Reissmann, Michael Hofreiter, Arne Ludwig

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


During the last decade, coat colouration in mammals has been investigated in numerous studies. Most of these studies addressing the genetics of coat colouration were on domesticated animals. In contrast to their wild ancestors, domesticated species are often characterized by a huge allelic variability of coat-colour-associated genes. This variability results from artificial selection accepting negative pleiotropic effects linked with certain coat-colour variants. Recent studies demonstrate that this selection for coat-colour phenotypes started at the beginning of domestication. Although to date more than 300 genetic loci and more than 150 identified coat-colour-associated genes have been discovered, which influence pigmentation in various ways, the genetic pathways influencing coat colouration are still only poorly described. On the one hand, similar coat colourations observed in different species can be the product of a few conserved genes. On the other hand, different genes can be responsible for highly similar coat colourations in different individuals of a species or in different species. Therefore, any phenotypic classification of coat colouration blurs underlying differences in the genetic basis of colour variants. In this review we focus on (i) the underlying causes that have resulted in the observed increase of colour variation in domesticated animals compared to their wild ancestors, and (ii) the current state of knowledge with regard to the molecular mechanisms of colouration, with a special emphasis on when and where the different coat-colour-associated genes act.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)885-899
Number of pages15
JournalBiological reviews
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2011

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