Shades of alpaca grey

A genetic tool to identify classic grey alpacas. By Dr. Kylie Munyard B.Sc. (Hons) PhD, School of Biomedical Sciences, Curtin Health Innovation Research Institute, Curtin University, Australia.

Grey is a popular pattern in alpacas, for many reasons, but can be controversial due to the huge diversity seen in the pattern. So that we are all “on the same page” with terminology, first of all we need to be clear that “grey” is a pattern, not a colour. The grey pattern can occur over any base colour. When the base colour is black the combination is described as silver-grey, and any other base colour produces rose-grey. Roan is another pattern often mistaken for grey, and is called “modern grey” in the US. Therefore, to (hopefully!) avoid confusion, I call the pattern that causes silver- or rose-grey “classic grey”.

Late last year Dr Samantha Brooks (University of Florida) and I set out to try to find the genetic cause of classic grey in alpacas; funded by the Morris Animal Foundation, the Alpaca Research Foundation & Curtin University. We started by examining what was already known about the pattern. Four main pieces of information emerged:

1. An analysis of thousands of breeding records by Elizabeth Paul led to the conclusion that classic grey was inherited as an incomplete dominant (an animal only needs one copy of the mutation to have the classic grey pattern), and that no “pure breeding” classic greys had ever been recorded, so that having two copies of the mutation for classic grey was probably lethal.

2. The production of classic grey cria from one white and one solid parent meant that the classic grey pattern was present in at least some white/ light fawn animals, but wasn’t able to be seen.

3. Elizabeth Paul’s breeding-record analysis also showed that blue-eyed-white (BEW) alpacas are probably caused by one copy of the classic grey mutation plus a copy of a white spotting pattern like tuxedo.

4. A few years later, research by Drs Felicity Jackling and Belinda Appleton showed that all BEW animals had one copy of a specific genetic pattern they called BEW1, and also a copy of a different specific genetic pattern called BEW2. The vast majority of classic grey animals in the study had BEW1. BEW1 & BEW2 were both near a gene called KIT.

All of these are grey!

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