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Science. 2009 Mar 6;323(5919):1339-43. doi: 10.1126/science.1165448. Epub 2009 Feb 5.

Molecular and evolutionary history of melanism in North American gray wolves.

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  • 1Departments of Genetics and Pediatrics, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA.

Abstract

Morphological diversity within closely related species is an essential aspect of evolution and adaptation. Mutations in the Melanocortin 1 receptor (Mc1r) gene contribute to pigmentary diversity in natural populations of fish, birds, and many mammals. However, melanism in the gray wolf, Canis lupus, is caused by a different melanocortin pathway component, the K locus, that encodes a beta-defensin protein that acts as an alternative ligand for Mc1r. We show that the melanistic K locus mutation in North American wolves derives from past hybridization with domestic dogs, has risen to high frequency in forested habitats, and exhibits a molecular signature of positive selection. The same mutation also causes melanism in the coyote, Canis latrans, and in Italian gray wolves, and hence our results demonstrate how traits selected in domesticated species can influence the morphological diversity of their wild relatives.

Comment in

  • How the gray wolf got its color. [Science. 2009]
  • White wolves can stand the heat. [Science. 2009]
PMID:
19197024
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PMCID:
PMC2903542
Free PMC Article

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