My pony has some really old genes


I mentioned in a previous post that both Sabino1 and Tobiano were really old genes. The paper detailing that study was among the most fascinating articles on horse color that I had read in recent years. Now there is a new study out that shows that Leopard Complex, the gene responsible for setting up the various appaloosa patterns, was present far earlier than anyone expected.

The dappled horses’ spotted coat pattern bears a strong resemblance to a pattern known as ‘leopard’ in modern horses. However, as some researchers believed a spotted coat phenotype unlikely at this time, pre-historians have often argued for more complex explanations, suggesting the spotted pattern was in some way symbolic or abstract.

Researchers from the UK, Germany, USA, Spain, Russia and Mexico genotyped and analysed nine coat-colour loci in 31 pre-domestic horses dating back as far as 35,000 years ago from Siberia, Eastern and Western Europe and the Iberian Peninsula. This involved analysing bones and teeth specimens from 15 locations.

They found that four Pleistocene and two Copper Age samples from Western and Eastern Europe shared a gene associated with leopard spotting, providing the first evidence that spotted horses existed at this time.

The full article can be read here.

As more and more tests become available for the different colors, it will be interesting to learn just how old some of them are.

(Thank you to Jackie Arns for the lead on the study!)


One Response to My pony has some really old genes

  1. Christine Sutcliffe November 8, 2011 at 7:40 pm #

    I suppose it isn’t really that surprising when you look at most prey animals from that time and even now – most exhibit some kind of spotting or striping pattern for camouflage. With domestication came selective breeding and eventually the need to blend in lessened as they only thing they had to worry about was humans.