Contrasting mode of evolution at a coat color locus in wild and domestic pigs. Academic Article uri icon


  • Despite having only begun approximately 10,000 years ago, the process of domestication has resulted in a degree of phenotypic variation within individual species normally associated with much deeper evolutionary time scales. Though many variable traits found in domestic animals are the result of relatively recent human-mediated selection, uncertainty remains as to whether the modern ubiquity of long-standing variable traits such as coat color results from selection or drift, and whether the underlying alleles were present in the wild ancestor or appeared after domestication began. Here, through an investigation of sequence diversity at the porcine melanocortin receptor 1 (MC1R) locus, we provide evidence that wild and domestic pig (Sus scrofa) haplotypes from China and Europe are the result of strikingly different selection pressures, and that coat color variation is the result of intentional selection for alleles that appeared after the advent of domestication. Asian and European wild boar (evolutionarily distinct subspecies) differed only by synonymous substitutions, demonstrating that camouflage coat color is maintained by purifying selection. In domestic pigs, however, each of nine unique mutations altered the amino acid sequence thus generating coat color diversity. Most domestic MC1R alleles differed by more than one mutation from the wild-type, implying a long history of strong positive selection for coat color variants, during which time humans have cherry-picked rare mutations that would be quickly eliminated in wild contexts. This pattern demonstrates that coat color phenotypes result from direct human selection and not via a simple relaxation of natural selective pressures.

published proceedings

  • PLoS Genet

altmetric score

  • 28.236

author list (cited authors)

  • Fang, M., Larson, G., Ribeiro, H. S., Li, N., & Andersson, L.

citation count

  • 198

complete list of authors

  • Fang, Meiying||Larson, Greger||Ribeiro, Helena Soares||Li, Ning||Andersson, Leif

editor list (cited editors)

  • Barsh, G. S.

publication date

  • January 2009