Genome-Wide Identification of the Mutation Underlying Fleece Variation and Discriminating Ancestral Hairy Species from Modern Woolly Sheep

Mol Biol Evol. 2017 Jul 1;34(7):1722-1729. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msx114.


The composition and structure of fleece variation observed in mammals is a consequence of a strong selective pressure for fiber production after domestication. In sheep, fleece variation discriminates ancestral species carrying a long and hairy fleece from modern domestic sheep (Ovis aries) owning a short and woolly fleece. Here, we report that the "woolly" allele results from the insertion of an antisense EIF2S2 retrogene (called asEIF2S2) into the 3' UTR of the IRF2BP2 gene leading to an abnormal IRF2BP2 transcript. We provide evidence that this chimeric IRF2BP2/asEIF2S2 messenger 1) targets the genuine sense EIF2S2 RNA and 2) creates a long endogenous double-stranded RNA which alters the expression of both EIF2S2 and IRF2BP2 mRNA. This represents a unique example of a phenotype arising via a RNA-RNA hybrid, itself generated through a retroposition mechanism. Our results bring new insights on the sheep population history thanks to the identification of the molecular origin of an evolutionary phenotypic variation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Carrier Proteins / genetics
  • DNA, Ancient
  • Genetic Variation / genetics
  • Genome
  • Genome-Wide Association Study / methods
  • Mutation
  • Phenotype
  • Sheep / genetics*
  • Sheep, Domestic / genetics*
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Wool


  • Carrier Proteins
  • DNA, Ancient
  • Transcription Factors