BackgroundRed deer with very pale coat colour are observed sporadically. In the red deer (Cervus elaphus) population of Reinhardswald in Germany, about 5% of animals have a white coat colour that is not associated with albinism. In order to facilitate the conservation of the animals, it should be determined whether and to what extent brown animals carry the white gene. For this purpose, samples of one white hind and her brown calf were available for whole genome sequencing to identify the single nucleotide polymorphism(s) responsible for the white phenotype. Subsequently, samples from 194 brown and 11 white animals were genotyped.ResultsBased on a list of colour genes of the International Federation of Pigment Cell Societies, a non-synonymous mutation with exchange of a glycine residue at position 291 of the tyrosinase protein by arginine was identified as the cause of dilution of the coat colour. A gene test led to exactly matching genotypes in all examined animals. The study showed that 14% of the brown animals carry the white gene. This provides a simple and reliable way of conservation for the white animals. However, results could not be transferred to another, unrelated red deer population with white animals. Although no brown animals with a white tyrosinase genotype were detected, the cause for the white colouring in this population was different.ConclusionsA gene test for the conservation of white red deer is available for the population of the Reinhardswald. While mutations in the tyrosinase are commonly associated with oculocutaneous albinism type 1, the amino acid exchange at position 291 was found to be associated with coat colour dilution in Cervus elaphus.