Project Overview

The molecular genetics of size and color variation in dogs

Faculty Sponsor

Barbara Hoopes (




Research in my laboratory focuses on the molecular genetics of purebred dogs.  Studies in both size and color variation are ongoing.  Purebred dogs vary in size more than any terrestrial mammal and, interestingly, variation in only about a dozen genes appears to be responsible for this wide variation (in humans there appear to be hundreds of genes that affect height!).   However, not only is it not clear that these are not the only ones important, for many of the genes we don’t know how the mutation affects the gene product (does it affect the level of expression or have some other effect?).  Similarly, although a basic model for mammalian coat color variation has existed since the 1950s, some of the actual genes have not been identified and some of the models clearly are insufficient to account for all variation.  In particular, some unusual patterns (“seal” and “agouti”) don’t fit the current model and it is unknown how solid yellow dogs (like Golden Retrievers) can vary from almost white to red.  Students will use techniques in molecular biology to look at DNA sequence variation or the level of gene expression to address these questions. Students will also learn to use bioinformatic tools to analyze their own data, and large datasets available for dogs or humans. Research on these genes will not only contribute to our understanding of how variation affects dogs but also help us to understand the underpinnings of size and color variation in other mammals, including humans.

Student Qualifications

Having taken BIOL182 Molecules Cells and Genes is a requirement and having taken a 200 level biology course is desirable.

Number of Student Researchers

3 students

Project Length

8 weeks

Applications open on 01/15/2017 and close on 02/07/2017

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If you have questions, please contact Karyn Belanger (