The Genetics of Brown Coat Color and White Spotting in Domestic Yaks (Bos Grunniens)

Anim Genet. 2014 Oct;45(5):652-9. doi: 10.1111/age.12191. Epub 2014 Jul 3.


Domestic yaks (Bos grunniens) exhibit two major coat color variations: a brown vs. wild-type black pigmentation and a white spotting vs. wild-type solid color pattern. The genetic basis for these variations in color and distribution remains largely unknown and may be complicated by a breeding history involving hybridization between yaks and cattle. Here, we investigated 92 domestic yaks from China using a candidate gene approach. Sequence variations in MC1R, PMEL and TYRP1 were surveyed in brown yaks; TYRP1 was unassociated with the coloration and excluded. Recessive mutations from MC1R, or p.Gln34*, p.Met73Leu and possibly p.Arg142Pro, are reported in bovids for the first time and accounted for approximately 40% of the brown yaks in this study. The remaining 60% of brown individuals correlated with a cattle-derived deletion mutation from PMEL (p.Leu18del) in a dominant manner. Degrees of white spotting found in yaks vary from color sidedness and white face, to completely white. After examining the candidate gene KIT, we suggest that color-sided and all-white yaks are caused by the serial translations of KIT (Cs6 or Cs29 ) as reported for cattle. The white-faced phenotype in yaks is associated with the KIT haplotype S(wf) . All KIT mutations underlying the serial phenotypes of white spotting in yaks are identical to those in cattle, indicating that cattle are the likely source of white spotting in yaks. Our results reveal the complex genetic origins of domestic yak coat color as either native in yaks through evolution and domestication or as introduced from cattle through interspecific hybridization.

Keywords: KIT; MC1R; PMEL; cattle; coat color; yak.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cattle / genetics*
  • China
  • Genetic Association Studies
  • Hair Color / genetics*
  • Haplotypes
  • Hybridization, Genetic
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Mutation*
  • Phenotype
  • Pigmentation / genetics*
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-kit / genetics
  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 1 / genetics
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA


  • Receptor, Melanocortin, Type 1
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-kit

Associated data

  • GENBANK/KF790926
  • GENBANK/KF790927
  • GENBANK/KF790928
  • GENBANK/KF790929
  • GENBANK/KF790930
  • GENBANK/KF790931
  • GENBANK/KF790932
  • GENBANK/KF790933
  • GENBANK/KF790934
  • GENBANK/KF790935