Scientists launch ‘spot the distinction’ probe into Dalmatians’ spots

Boffins are holding a “spot the difference” probe into why Dalmatians have patches.

Teams at Lancaster and Bath universities have received £498,000 from The Leverhulme Trust for researching the dog breed.

They think meddling humans may have caused the black and white spots with super-selective breeding.

Experts will combine experimentation with mathematical modelling for the first time ever to investigate the mutts’ genetics and how it links to the pattern of their coat pigmentation.

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Although a Dalmatian’s pattern has long been a source of intrigue, scientists believe it’s all down to pigmentation. This simply refers to the reaction between skin, hair and cells known as ‘melanocytes’, which produce a colouring effect.

Look at those happy spotty dogs

For context, all humans have the same number of melanocytes but the amount of melanin produced by each varies from person-to-person. Those with darker hair, skin and eyes are more likely to have a lot of melanin compared to someone with lighter features.

Anyone with freckles may be born with clusters of melanocytes too, according to Cleveland Clinic, while vitiligo – a condition in which pale white patches develop on the skin – is triggered by a lack of melanin.

In animals, stripes, spots and patches can form due to this bizarre melanocyte effect, with a Dalmatian’s pattern largely made up of ‘melanocyte-populated hairs’ on a coat that’s completely absent of these cells.

Project lead Dr Richard Mort said: “Dalmatians, with their characteristic spotting patterns, have long fascinated breeders, geneticists and biologists.

“The impact of human selective breeding has resulted in some striking pigmentation in domestic animals.”

His colleague Dr Barbara Shih added: “While recent advances have identified the probable genetic loci associated with Dalmatian spots, the underlying molecular and developmental mechanisms that generate these patterns are still poorly understood.”

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