A not-so-small breakthrough

One of my mare’s barn buddies, Abby, showing the varnish roan coloring associated with the Leopard Complex gene.

The Appaloosa Project, a research group devoted to unlocking the mysteries behind appaloosa patterning in horses, announced today that they had isolated several of changes in the genetic code that correlate with the “leopard complex” gene. Leopard complex is the name given to the gene responsible for the color horseman call varnish roan. It’s important because it is thought to be the master switch that sets the stage for the other appaloosa patterns (blankets and leopards). This discovery is important because it means that tests can be offered to determine if a horse has the gene. Since varnish roan is not always visible at birth (especially when none of the patterning genes are present), being able to test for it will be a great boon to breeders of appaloosas.

The article with the information appears in this month’s Animal Genetics, in a special issue on horse genomics. An article that explains the leopard complex gene is available in PDF form on my website. (I need to format and upload the other articles from that series!)

This is exciting news for those of us that follow equine coat color research. This is the first step towards a better understanding of the whole picture when it comes to appaloosa patterns. It is likely that research in this area will shed light on how the other complex, multi-gene patterns (like sabino) work. Kudos to the team of scientists at The Appaloosa Project!

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