Researchers invent new genetic testing tool for alpacas

A new genetic test that can help identify the genetic colour pattern found in an alpaca’s coat has been developed by Curtin University researchers.

The research, published in Animal Genetics, discovered a new test that could identify the mutation they found in the KIT gene in an alpaca’s DNAwhich could allow breeders to specifically breed the highly sought-after ‘classic grey’ alpaca more efficiently.

Lead researcher Dr Kylie Munyard, from Curtin’s School of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences, said the development of the genetic test would allow alpaca breeders to better select for a desired pattern and efficiently breed for this pattern.

“The ‘classic grey’ colour pattern is highly sought-after in the stud animal and fibre markets, but is known to be linked with the ‘blue-eyed white’ colour pattern, which is less desirable for some alpaca breeders because of possible health defects,” Dr Munyard said

“Through our research, we were able to identify a genetic marker responsible for the ‘classic grey’ colour pattern in alpacas, and by using molecular techniques, we were able to develop a rapid and reliable method of identifying the mutation from a small DNA sample.

“The most important aspect of this discovery is that we can now identify the so-called ‘cryptic grey’ alpacas that are too pale for the pattern to be seen. This will allow breeders to select for, or against, classic grey and ‘blue-eyed white’ in their herds.”

Dr Munyard said the discovery had important implications for the alpaca industry on a global scale.

“By using this new testing tool, breeders and farmers have the opportunity to test white or light fawn alpacas, or those with uncertain patterns, for the mutation found in ‘classic grey’ alpacas, which is also present in ‘blue-eyed white’ alpacas. This will provide them with better information with which to make their breeding decisions,” Dr Munyard said.

“The discovery of this new mutation will provide further support to breeders around the world and we look forward to working alongside the alpaca industry to implement this new product.”

The project was funded by the Morris Animal Foundation in Denver, USA. The research team has submitted a provisional patent application for the genetic test.

Morris Animal Foundation Chief Scientific Officer Dr Janet Patterson-Kane said it was a great result with such practical use.

“Beyond the aesthetic benefits, we are proud to support a project that can help address the issues of deafness and neonatal death that are associated with this mutation,” Dr Patterson-Kane said.

Neogen Australia and their parent company Neogen Corporation have been granted a worldwide licence to commercialise the technology by offering a test to alpaca breeders.

The research was co-authored by researchers from the School of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences at Curtin University, Deakin University and the University of Florida in the US.

The research paper, titled, ‘A non-synonymous SNP in exon 3 of the KIT gene is responsible for the classic grey phenotype in alpacas (Vicugna pacos),’ can be found online here.

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