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Dog coats shed genetic secrets

A small sample of the variety of coat types found in the domestic dog. Pictured left to right: Smooth Coated Dachshund, Border Terrier, Jack Russell Terrier Mix, Yorkshire Terrier.

The differences between the silky curls of a cocker spaniel and the shaggy mop of a sheepdog are the result of a mere three genes, researchers report in a new study.

The coats of domestic dogs vary widely they can be long, short, straight, wavy, curly, wiry, smooth, etc. To investigate how this variation arises, Edouard Cadieu of the National Human Genome Research Institute and his colleagues scanning the genomes of individual dogs from 80 different dog breeds.

The researchers looked through the DNA "letters" that make up all of these individual genomes, in search of certain DNA sequences that appeared in dogs with certain types of coats.

They found that DNA variations in one major gene control the length of the dogs' hair, variations in another gene control its curliness, and variations in a third gene control the hair's texture.

In combination, variants of these three genes account for nearly all of the different types of coats on purebred dogs in the United States, the scientists report. This paper will be published online by the journal Science, at the Science Express website, on Thursday, 27 August.