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The internet's first information on canine phenotype, genotype, DNA, and the importance of dietary and environmental influences when performing health tests and genetic screenings.





submitted by Fred Lanting, All-Breed Judge, edited by Barbara J. Andrews


Is a Wolf or dog’s coat color related to immunity to the canine distemper virus and their mating preferences? University researchers said yes in late 2022!


Coat color genetics are important in many species and certainly in dog breeds. In October 2022, the University Of Pennsylvania and other researchers concluded that coat color can be connected to genetic factors previously undiscovered. Many dog breeders have long thought that coat color could be connected to health factors but now we have genetic evidence of inter-species breeding AND of coat color genetics related to canine health.


Since February 10, 2022, gray wolves are protected in the U.S. except in the northern Rocky Mountains where they are plentiful. But therein lies the story. The Rocky Mountains are also home to a large number of black wolves.


As an aside, we know that people crossed into North America through the Bering Strait about 10,000 years ago and that they brought dogs to carry their “stuff.” We can assume that some of those domestic dogs were black and now researchers from Penn State have confirmed that coat color can reflect an animal’s immunity to canine distemper virus.


UPA says it is proposed that “the proportion of black wolves may be due to changes in the frequency of CDV disease outbreaks” and that has been associated with the mating behavior of the wolves. The JournalScience reports that “Variation in (coat) color is frequently used by animals to assess the fitness of potential mates.


Peter Hudson, a Professor of Biology at Penn State also “found that wolves may signal their resistance to canine distemper virus via their coat color, which could enable individuals to identify partners that can provide them with healthier offspring.” According to Hudson, the gene for black coat color was likely introduced to the wolf population when people migrated across the Bering Strait and brought dogs that carried the gene. That was 7,250 years ago which says something about the hardiness of canine genetics!


The team thought that the gene controlling coat color might also protect wolves from canine distemper so they tested the idea 12 wolf populations from North America. This was based on the theory “If a wolf has CDV antibodies, then it has caught CDV in the past and survived.” Simple but important knowledge. Sure enough, they found that wolves with CDV antibodies were more likely to be black and that “…black wolves were more common in areas where relatively frequent CDV outbreaks occurred.


Overall they decades of accumulated information and sure enough “black wolves were more likely to survive CDV outbreaks than gray wolves.” That led to a theory that wolves could select mates according to coat color. Think about that!!! If so, it blows away the theory that animals can’t think!



Can it be true that animals, in this case wild wolves, “instinctively” prefer black coat color or that they somehow understood the protective genetics?!!? Another fact was taken into the equation. It was noted that “black wolves are more likely to pair with gray wolves in areas where CDV outbreaks are common.” How compelling is that fact??!!


Dr. Brandell and other researchers speculate that other species may follow a similar pattern to wolves. They noted “any insects, amphibians, birds and nonhuman mammals have associations between color and disease resistance. It might be that the presence of a disease, or how frequently a disease outbreak occurs, is an important factor affecting the color of mate an animal prefers.


We don’t fully understand all of the implications of this study but as Dr. Hudson surmised “We are learning that disease is a major evolutionary driver that impacts so many aspects of animal population.


Results of this ‘coat color” study will likely not change the way dog breeders select breeding pairs but it does present some compelling evidence of “intelligent selection” in wild wolves. That leads us to speculate that our carefully controlled canine “breeding stock” might do better on their own in cases of disease immunity.


Luckily, we have vaccines but that begs the question “which came first?” the problem of human interference in selecting sires for our female dogs (cats, horses, etc. etc.) or weakened disease resistance in domestic animals? Something to think about… EST 1998 © Nov. 2022



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