EPAS1 variants in high altitude Tibetan wolves were selectively introgressed into highland dogs

Bridgett vonHoldt, Zhenxin Fan, Diego Ortega Del Vecchyo, Robert K. Wayne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Background. Admixture can facilitate adaptation. For example, black wolves have obtained the variant causing black coat color through past hybridization with domestic dogs and have higher fitness than gray colored wolves. Another recent example of the transfer of adaptive variation between the two species has been suggested by the similarity between high altitude Tibetan mastiffs and wolves at the EPAS1 gene, a transcription factor induced in low oxygen environments. Methods. Here, we investigate the directionality of admixture in EPAS1 between 28 reference highland gray wolves, 15 reference domestic dogs, and 21 putatively admixed highland wolves. This experimental design represents an expanded sample of Asian dogs and wolves from previous studies. Admixture was inferred using 17,709 publicly available SNP genotypes on canine chromosome 10. We additionally conducted a scan for positive selection in the highland dog genome. Results. We find an excess of highland gray wolf ancestry at the EPAS1 locus in highland domestic dogs, suggesting adaptive introgression from wolves to dogs. The signal of admixture is limited in genomic extent to a small region on chromosome 10, indicating that it is the focus of selection in an oxygen-limited environment. Discussion. Our results suggest that an adaptive variant of EPAS1 in highland wolves was transferred to highland dogs, carrying linked variants that potentially function in hypoxia response at high elevation. The intertwined history of dogs and wolves ensures a unique evolutionary dynamic where variants that have appeared in the history of either species can be tested for their effects on fitness under natural and artificial selection. Such coupled evolutionary histories may be key to the persistence of wild canines and their domesticated kin given the increasing anthropogenic modifications that characterize the future of both species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere3522
StatePublished - Jul 12 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Neuroscience
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


  • Adaptive introgression
  • Domestic dogs
  • Elevation


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