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Embark’s Roaning Discovery

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Australian Cattle Dog Roan Coat

Your dog is one-of-a-kind. But have you ever wondered what makes them that way? Embark makes it our business to know your pup down to their DNA. Our scientists unlocked a secret to understanding dogs’ roan coat patterns — and they couldn’t have done it without the help of everyday dog owners who wanted to make a difference.

A new discovery: Roan

Embark scientists worked in collaboration with its citizen scientist customers to make the unique genetic discovery that the patterned coat that is known as “roaning” is strongly associated with a genomic region on chromosome 38 and likely regulated by the usherin gene (USH2A). 

This type of subtly spotted coat, found in dogs and horses, can act as nature’s camouflage. Roaning can make dogs more difficult to see in fields or forests, a trait that is particularly desirable in certain hunting dogs. Roaning is common in certain breeds, including German Shorthaired Pointers, Australian Cattle Dogs, and English Cocker Spaniels.

Embark scientists studied the genotype and physical appearance of nearly 1,000 dogs. One of those dogs, Bogey the Australian Cattle Dog, became the key to unlocking this genetic discovery because of his atypical non-roan coat trait. Bogey’s owner chose to include Bogey’s genotype in Embark’s research and also provided Embark with a photo, which is part of what made this novel discovery possible.

The dog owners participating in this study became part of a larger trend toward crowd-sourced scientific discovery. Similar work from other “citizen scientists” have already contributed to significant discoveries in astronomy and ornithology.

A clue to the Dalmatian’s spots

The results of this study may also shed light on the genetic origin of the Dalmatian’s unique spots. Until now, the spots on Dalmatians have been considered different and distinct from roaning (both genetically and visually). However, all Dalmatians in the Embark study carried the duplication associated with roaning. This suggests that Dalmatians and dogs with roaning may share common ancestry (although more research is needed in this area).

While dogs can’t have roaning without the white spotting pattern caused by the S Locus (MITF gene), the white spotting (specifically piebald an extreme white) does come with some associated health risks, like deafness. Pigment-associated deafness has been observed in many breeds, but the exact genetic mechanism is unclear and suggested to be complex.  

Roan testing only at Embark

Embark is the only dog DNA test on the market that provides a genetic test for roaning. In addition to roaning, Embark tests for over 350 breeds and over 210 health risks. A market leader in canine genetics, Embark also offers the world’s only canine DNA Relative Finder and Matchmaker for breeders. 

Testing for the roaning genetic trait is only available through the Embark products Breed + Health DNA Kits and Embark for Breeders DNA Test Kits.

Learn more about Embark’s roaning discovery or check out the full study in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS One.

Already used an Embark DNA Kit to test your dog? Please be sure to take our surveys under the Research tab in your dog’s Embark profile so you can help us contribute to new scientific discoveries.

Lisa Peterson Contributor

Award-winning writer, journalist, and podcast host, Lisa Peterson, is a canine subject matter expert and Senior Content Strategist, Breeder/Veterinarian at Embark Veterinary. She served as the American Kennel Club director of communications and club communications for 10 years before becoming a Westminster Kennel Club public relations consultant from 2016 to 2021. Lisa began owning, breeding, and handling Norwegian Elkhounds more than 35 years ago, and today is an AKC judge and AKC Breeder of Merit.

Read more about Lisa Peterson

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