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Uncovering the mystery of alpaca colours and patterns

Media release

Long prized for its fine quality and wide variety of naturally occurring colours and patterns, the genetic mystery behind alpaca fibre is the subject of new Curtin University of Technology research.

Dr Kylie Munyard from the University’s School of Biomedical Sciences is working with her PhD student Ms Natasha Feeley on the project to uncover the genetic causes of colour and pattern variation in alpacas. 

“Alpacas come in more than 20 different colours and patterns and so far nothing is known for certain about the molecular mechanisms underlying the causes of these variations,” Dr Munyard said.

“In fact, little is also known about how these colours and patterns are inherited and passed on in the alpacas.”

The research hopes to be able to shed light on the genetic mechanisms underlying the inheritance patterns of fibre colour in alpacas.
 
Currently at a halfway stage, the research has already revealed a potential marker for the absence of dark pigment in alpacas which could have positive benefits for the alpaca industry.

“We are still in the process of validating these results but if successful this marker could be used in breeding selection as it appears to predict animals incapable of producing the darker pigment type,” Dr Munyard said.

“At the moment white fibre alpacas are the most valuable, and my discovery would be beneficial for breeders aiming to produce white fibre animals for fibre production.
 
“Alpaca breeding is still a small industry so if we can provide useful information about how to effectively select for colour in the breeding stock there is great potential for the industry to expand.”

This research is funded through a Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation grant.  

Ms Feeley recently presented the current results at the 18th Association for the Advancement of Animal Breeding and Genetics conference.

She won the Best Presentation by a Young Scientist award at the conference.

Media Contact: Ann Marie Lim, Public Relations, Curtin; 08 9266 4241; 0401 103 532; ann.lim@curtin.edu.au