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Red Pigment Intensity Test Added to Embark for Breeders Kit


red pigment intensity test

Embark offers the coat color trait test for red pigment intensity. Red pigment intensity is the concentration of red pigment (pheomelanin) in a dog’s hair, which produces colors ranging from light cream (like a West Highland Terrier) to deep red (like an Irish Setter).

Red Pigment Intensity

About the Red Pigment Intensity Test

Intensity is not controlled by a single “I locus” instead, it is a phenotype controlled by at least five genetic loci, although some are more impactful than others in specific breeds. Embark looks at markers at all five known intensity loci, which can explain over 70% of the variation in the phenotype with these markers. We report dogs’ overall phenotypic expectation and their genotype results at each locus we test for. To see your dog’s red pigment intensity results go to Traits in the upper menu of your Embark online account, and then click on Intensity Loci Linkage. Because this is a complex genetic trait, more research in the future may lead to changes in the test to incorporate more variants or loci as they are discovered.

As part of our test, we obtain dogs’ genotypes for two intensity variants that other research groups discovered: the MFSD12 missense variant and the chromosome 15 copy number variant near the KITLG gene. The MFSD12 test is a direct variant test, meaning that we obtain dogs’ genotypes at the causal missense variant, while the KITLG test is linkage-based. The causal variants for the other three loci are unknown, but the tested markers are significantly associated with the trait. A peer-reviewed paper authored by members of Embark’s Discovery Team provides additional detail on precisely what genetic variants are used for the three novel associated regions we use in our test. 

We recognize that the KITLG variant reported by Weich et al. is most predictive in Poodles and Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers and doesn’t substantially impact coat color in the other breeds assessed in that study. However, Embark does report dogs’ genotypes at this locus as part of our commitment to provide customers with the most information available through our testing services. The mathematical model that we use to predict a dog’s intensity phenotype from its genotypes at the five loci considers that some loci have a stronger impact on phenotype than others.

Red Pigment Intensity and Other Coat Color Loci

The Intensity results that we report impact pheomelanin (red pigment) and not eumelanin (black or brown pigment). Because the genetic basis of red pigment intensity is still not fully understood, our phenotype predictions may not always be correct – we can only provide the best prediction we can make using what is currently known. 

When reviewing a result for a dog, the predicted phenotype, which is listed on the right-hand side of the top of the results, takes into account the dog’s genotype at the E, K, and A loci. For example, a dog would need to be ee or kyky and express ay, aw, or at to have pheomelanin in their coat. While there is some evidence that the D locus may affect pheomelanin to some extent/in a breed-specific manner, in our research, we did not see a significant effect on coat pheomelanin intensity from the B or D locus.

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How Can I Use This Test for Breeding?

Embark does not recommend making breeding decisions solely based on coat color because – as many breeders know – doing this repeatedly can cause a rapid loss of genetic diversity in a line, which can lead to a higher prevalence of health problems. However, if, for example, you wanted to get puppies with deep red coats, the best way to increase the likelihood that your litter would have darker coats on average would be to breed two dogs that got overall results of “Any light hair likely apricot or red.”

Note: This trait is non-Mendelian, meaning that it doesn’t behave according to Mendel’s laws. As a result, predicting the percentage of puppies in a litter with low, intermediate, or high intensity is much more complicated and error-prone than it is for a trait like K locus, where a single gene determines the phenotype. We also can’t confidently say (for now) whether specific alleles or allele combinations are dominant/recessive to others. Consequently, we cannot guarantee that specific breedings will produce the desired results.

Research regarding Intensity is ongoing, and we appreciate you informing us that your dog’s predicted coat color was incorrect. We will use this information to improve our tests in the future.


A big thanks to J. Caplan, Vicky Creamer, Jill Miller, Alisa Wold, S. Sengupta, and Anna Kennedy for lending their beautiful dogs’ images to illustrate the Intensity spectrum.

Andrea Slavney, PhD Scientist

Andrea Slavney, PhD is a Senior Research Scientist who drives insights from biological datasets. While at Embark, she has been involved in discovering genetic loci underlying blue eyes, red pigment intensity, and the roan coat pattern. Dr. Slavney received her PhD in Genetics, Genomics, & Development from Cornell University. Her doctoral work focused on the evolution of gene expression on the mammalian X chromosome, and the role of the X chromosome in disease.

Read more about Andrea Slavney, PhD

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