Results from White Galloway Colour Inheritance Research Seminar – Schleswig-Holstein, Germany – 8 September 2014

Following the World Galloway Congress in Wildeshausen, Germany, Karen & Bob attended the White Galloway Colour Inheritance Seminar which was held in Nevesdorf in the Schleswig-Holstein region of north-east Germany on 8 September. This Seminar was arranged by local breeder & good friend Mechthild Bening, and was hosted by RSH, the governing cattle breed organisation for the Schleswig-Holstein region.

On Mechthild’s initiative, Professors H Swalve and B Brenig, World reknown geneticists, agreed to investigate the mode of inheritance of colours and markings in White Galloways and the incidence of non typical colour patterns (black and poorly marked) when breeding a well marked (strong black points) bull to a well marked cow. The scope of the research was extended to investigate the incidence of the various colours obtained from breeding with black and poorly marked parent combinations with the aim of fully unravelling the genetic background.

The project as outlined in a previous News item entitled – Inheritance of Colour in the Cattle Breed White Galloway (August 2010) consists of the following two research components:

  1. Analysis of the Mode of Inheritance based on pedigree data and phenotypic records.
    For this purpose, recording sheets and an Excel template were set up and the resulting data was used for a pedigree analysis and segregation analysis. Based on phenotypic records and genetic relationships among animals, a segregation analysis attempts to analyse and statistically check the possibility of inheritance due to individual genes and their variants (alleles). This can be done without any molecular testing. This work was carried out by the group of Professor Swalve at the University of Halle.
  2. Molecular Analysis
    Conditional on the results of the pedigree analysis and segregation analysis, i.e. if there are significant results pointing to a Mendelian inheritance, the second part of the project was initiated. This component consists of the search for causal genes and their variants on a molecular basis. For the molecular analysis, blood samples, or in exceptional cases, also hair samples, of the animals which have been identified as especially important were subject to an extraction of their DNA. This project component will also use comparative genetics, i.e. a comparison of DNA sequences and/or functional genes across breeds and even species. It can be assumed that comparisons with genes that are causal for colour inheritance in horses will be helpful in this part of the study. The work was carried out by the group of Professor Brenig at the University of Göttingen. (In the past, the research group of Professor Brenig has been involved in the characterization of the MC1R gene in cattle on an international level).
Some of the White Galloway Cattle, exibiting the various colour patterns, which were used in the research project

After a brief introduction Professor Hermann Swalve from Halle-Wittenburg University presented a number of slides explaining how the project had come about. He commented that the many genes affecting colour inheritance were known, some of which were simple and some complicated, the well known MC1R and KIT being known to determine black/red and colour dilution.

He noted that colours do not contribute to economic value of the beef product but in the case of the White Galloway, colour forms the brand of the breed, contributes to its tradition, and was appealing to the eye. He went on to note that the aim of the White Galloway breeder was clear, i.e. to produce white animals with black muzzle, black ears and black feet. However attempts to achieve this goal sometimes failed, producing fully black and fully/almost all white progeny from well marked parents.

He further noted that there was much discussion amongst breeders, much of which was non-scientific and sometimes superstitious arguments like “we gotta add some colour and then…”

So the aim was to collect colours and markings of as many registered breeding animals as possible, recording colour and pedigree. For every Dam the aim was to collect this data on all of the calves even if these calves did not become registered breeding animals.

The research involved the collection of breeding records from a number of breeders in Germany, Scotland, Australia and New Zealand; and the results of the first component (using data up to September 2014) was presented by Professor Swalve; and the second component – on the molecular genetics was presented by Professor Brenig.

Professor Swalve observed that from the limited data to the end of 2013 the results seemed to indicate conformance with the Mendelian Mode of Inheritance. He explained that in diploid organisms, at every base pair of the DNA, there can be two variants, and hence three genotypes (A1A1; A1A2; A2A2).

The following table shows the results from the German database:

From the results in this table it is noted that although in some instances ther sample size is limited, there is general conformance with the Mendelian Mode of Inheritance (expected proportion in Table 1 – right hand column).

To summarise:

  • When mating a Poorly Marked with a Well or Strongly Marked there is a 50% chance of getting a Poorly Marked, a 50% chance of getting a Well or Strongly Marked, but no chance of getting a Full Black.
  • When mating a Poorly Marked with a Poorly Marked, all progeny will be Poorly Marked.
  • When mating a Well or Strongly Marked to a Well or Strongly Marked there isa 50% chance of getting a Well or Strongly Marked, a 25% chance of getting a Poorly Marked and a 25% chance of getting a Full Black.
  • When mating a Well or Strongly Marked to a Poorly Marked there is a 50% chance of getting a Well or Strongly Marked, a 50% chance of getting a Poorly Marked, but no chance of getting a Full Black.
  • When mating a Well or Strongly Marked with a Full Black, there is a 50% chance of getting a Well or Strongly Marked, a 50% chance of getting a Full Black, but no chance of getting a Poorly Marked.
  • When mating a Full Black with a Well or Strongly Marked there is a 50% chance of getting Well or Strongly Marked, a 50% chance of getting Full Black, but no chance of getting Poorly Marked (NB: Table 2 – on Suncrest’s stock shows getting 100% Well or Strongly Marked but the sample number is too small at only 3).
  • When mating a Poorly Marked with a Full Black, all progeny (100%) will be Well or Strongly Marked.
  • When mating a Full Black with a Poorly marked, all progeny (100%) will be Well or Strongly Marked.

Karen & Bob were blown away when Professor Swalve’s next slide was on the data received from their Suncrest Stud in New Zealand. This was most unexpected and quite an honour. The results presented were as follows:

Suncrest results show a higher than 50% Well or Strongly Marked, from Well or Strongly Marked to Well or Strongly Marked, and Well or Strongly Marked, to Poorly Marked matings, but the sample of only 36 animals is too small to be conclusive. Consistent with Mendelian predictions there is no evidence from the Suncrest database of producing a Full Black from a Well or Strongly Marked to Poorly Marked mating.

Professor Brenig, a molecular geneticist from the University of Gottingen then gave a presentation on the molecular approach to unravelling the inheritance in colour of the White Galloway (Extract from http://www.whitegallowaystars.com/en/project/project_results_molecular-genetics.php.)

Professor Brenig explained that White Galloway Cattle exhibit three different white coat colour phenotypes, that is, Well Marked, Strongly Marked and Poorly Marked. However he noted that mating of individuals with the preferred Well or Strongly Marked phenotype also results in off-spring with the undesired Poorly Marked and/or even Fully Black coat colour.

He further explained that in order to elucidate the genetic background of the coat colour variations in White Galloway cattle, he analysed four coat colour relevant genes: mast/stem cell growth factor receptor (KIT), KIT ligand (KITLG), Melanocorton 1 receptor (MC1R) and tyrosinase (TYR). He was able to show that the coat colour variations in White Galloway cattle and White Park cattle are caused by the KIT gene (chromosone 6) duplication and aberrant insertion on chromosone 29 (Cs29) as recently described for colour sided Belgian Blue cattle.

Professor Brenig stated that Homozygous (Cs29/Cs29)) White Galloway cattle and White Park cattle exhibit the Poorly Marked phenotype, whereas Heterozygous (Cs29/wt29) individuals are either well or strongly marked. In contrast fully black individuals are characterised by the wild-type Chromosone 29. As known for other cattlebreeds, mutations in the MC1R gene determine the red colouring. He further stated that the data suggests that the white coat colour variations in White Galloway cattle and White Park cattle are caused by a dose dependent effect, based on the ploidy of aberrent insertions and inheritance of the KIT gene on Chromosone 29.

Professor Brenig noted that it is still the breeders primary interest to breed first class, typical Galloway cattle (type of cattle, muscle and bone structures). And that in addition, the breeders of White Galloways are greatly interested in breeding animals which are Well Marked.

With the results of the research work as well as the knowledge gained concerning the colouring of the animals, he noted that a further instrument has been provided to help achieve this goal. Up to now we have seldom used poorly marked or black animals in our breeding programmes. But, in order to achieve our breeding goals, we can now mate animals having good exterior qualities with black-coloured White Galloways purposefully and meaningfully in spite of their mismarkings.

Professor Brenig advised that the next step is to implement these results in actual practice. It was possible to convince a considerable number of German breeders to participate in the purposeful breeding of animals during the spring and summer of 2013. In so doing, they are breeding Black and Poorly Marked male and female White Galloways having at least two generations of such colouring.

The RSH (Breeders Association) Rinderzucht Schleswig-Holstein eG has developed a special breeding programme for this and all of these animals were previously examined and judged by the breeding inspector of the Beef Cattle Department. By DNA testing of all animals at the Institute of Veterinary Medicine (University of Göttingen) it was checked that all of the poorly marked animals harbour the Homozygous White Genotype. With this it is expected that all of the calves from such matings will either be well marked or else strongly marked.

Professor Swalve then presented a summary of the findings, and lessons learnt, and provided some recommendations for the breeding of White Galloways. These are summarised as follows:

  1. White Galloways in the desired phenotype (Well Marked) should not be regarded as a separate breed.
  2. Apparent pure breeding of Well Marked with Well Marked does in deed result on average in 50% Well or Strongly Marked, 25% Poorly Marked and 25% Full Black.
  3. If the typical White Galloway is desired 100% of the time the breeder needs to breed Black with Poorly Marked White or Poorly Marked White with Black.

Point 3 was borne out most graphically here in New Zealand with Richard Izard’s herd in Warkworth, North Auckland, where in 2006, he put his poorly marked (WPM) bull Ngutunui White Alf (see photo) in with a mix of 28 Ngutunui Black Galloway and Black (White) Galloway cows (WFB), and all of the resulting progeny were well marked Whites (WWM).

In view of these results he noted that some rules may need to be changed, especially those applying to recommendations for mating to preserve colours.

He then presented options for breeders. They were:

  • Continue as before – no change.
  • Keep Poorly Marked White cows, buy Black bulls; and/or keep Black cows and buy Poorly marked bulls – produce more Well Marked Whites
  • ‘Equal rights policy’ – use all colours – Well Marked/Strong Marked, Poorly Marked & Black. Mate Black and Poorly Marked White as a preference. All other mating types ok too. Choose breeding animals on all other traits but colour to improve the herd.
  • Breed Well Marked with Well Marked and sell Poorly Marked & Full Black to other breeders.

He further noted that the problem of Strongly Marked (linked with Well Marked for the Study) was not solved since intra-uterine and environmental effects could play a role and genetic effects could also be a cause. He concluded that there was still a need to collect more data and samples.

After the Seminar the group travelled to Mechthild’s farm – ‘Galloway vom Bebensee’, where a collection of the White Galloway used in the study were on show. Some very interesting discussions ensued and everyone came away with thoughts on how all this would effect their respective breeding programmes.

For Suncrest, Karen & Bob indicated that they will continue to support the research programme by providing the necessary colour and pedigree information of future progeny on the forms provided.

From a breeding point of view, they have decided to continue breeding Well/Strongly Marked with Well/Strongly Marked with a view to maintaining a ‘Well Marked herd’, whilst through sales of Black and Poorly Marked progeny, provide other breeders with the opportunity to breed Poorly Marked with Black, and Black with Poorly Marked, to achieve 100% Well Marked progeny. In addition, a good market exists for Poorly Marked and Black bulls with the dairy industry thus avoiding the necessity to steer any bulls in the foreseeable future.

From post presentation discussions with Professor Swalve, it is apparent that there is no homozygosity with Well Marked White Galloways and that there is no colour genetic difference between a White Full Black Galloway and a Standard Black Galloway. This being the case, it should open up the gene pool to both White Galloway and Standard Galloway breeders, Society rules permitting.

Professor Swalve was questioned as to whether the use of a Strongly Marked bull (heavy spotting around the neck, as exhibited by Suncrest Arctic Bayley), was the reason for Suncrest’s slightly better odds of producing Well Marked progeny as shown in Table 2. He responded by saying that one of the reasons for these better odds could be that the sample was just too small; but that the effect from a Strongly Marked parent could not be discounted at this stage, and that, as mentioned previously, further research into the Strongly Marked influence was needed.