Geneticists have discovered that just three genes are responsible for the wide variety of dog coats.

A team from the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) in the USA found the length and texture of all dog coats depends on genes KRT71, FGF5 and RSPO2.

The NHGRI team studied DNA signposts in 1,000 dogs from 80 different breeds. They found that a variant of the KRT71 produces curly coated dogs, FGF5 affects the coat texture of long-haired dogs and RSPO2 creates moustachioed muzzles.

The study’s lead author, Edouard Cadieu, said the findings showed how the closed gene pool of dog breeds allowed more focused genetic research into human and canine conditions.

“The carefully controlled breeding of dogs offers advantages in pinpointing the genes that determine particular traits, which may have immediate application to the study of diseases, like cancer, that are common to both dogs and humans,” he said.

Cathryn Mellersh leads the Animal Health Trust genetics group that looks at inherited diseases in dog breeds. She explained that the American findings did not directly affect canine health. However, geneticists will be able to build on this approach – looking at a simpler genetic causes in dogs – when testing for diseases in humans and animals.

“The research proves the principle that things can be a lot simpler in dogs and is a great advertisement for using dogs as a model to understand human genetics,” she said.

“I also think we will now see new DNA tests available for breeders to tell whether an animal will have long or short hair.”

She also believes genetics research based on dogs will make it easier for groups looking into canine conditions, such as the AHT, to apply for research funding.

“It is also good news for dogs as studies like this will help us to fund translational studies into dog health in future,” she said.

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