The genetic basis of recessive self-colour pattern in a wild sheep population

J. Gratten, J. G. Pilkington, E. A. Brown, D. Beraldi, J. M. Pemberton, J. Slate

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Bridging the genotype-phenotype gap for traits of ecological and evolutionary importance in natural populations can provide a novel insight into the origin and maintenance of variation. Here, we identify the gene and putative causal mutations underlying a recessive colour pattern phenotype ('self' or uniform colour) in a wild population of primitive Soay sheep. We targeted the agouti signalling protein (ASIP) gene, a positional candidate based on previous study that mapped the Coat pattern locus to a presumptive region on chromosome 13. We found evidence for three recessive mutations, including two functional changes in the coding sequence and a putative third cis-regulatory mutation that inactivates the promoter. These mutations define up to five haplotypes in Soays, which collectively explained the coat pattern in all but one member of a complex multi-generational pedigree containing 621 genotyped individuals. The functional mutations are in strong linkage disequilibrium in the study population, and are identical to those known to underlie the self phenotype in domestic sheep. This is indicative of a recent (and simultaneous) origin in Soay sheep, possibly as a consequence of past interbreeding with modern domestic breeds. This is only the second study in which ASIP has been linked to variation in pigmentation in a natural population. Knowledge of the genetic basis of self-colour pattern in Soay sheep, and the recognition that several mutations are segregating in the population, will aid future studies investigating the role of selection in the maintenance of the polymorphism. 

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)206-214
Number of pages9
Issue number2
Early online date12 Aug 2009
Publication statusPublished - 28 Feb 2010


  • pigmentation
  • ASIP
  • wild population
  • Ovis aries
  • genetic heterogeneity
  • domestication


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