Volume 92 Issue 7 | p. 32 | Concentrates
Issue Date: February 17, 2014

Three Genetic Mutations Produce Colorful Pigeons

The genes are also implicated in human conditions such as albinism and may provide clues to the susceptibility for developing skin cancer
Department: Science & Technology | Collection: Critter Chemistry
News Channels: Biological SCENE
Keywords: gene mutations, feather color, melanin, pigeons
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Mutations in three genes cause different feather pigmentations in domestic rock pigeons, such as these English trumpeter pigeons.
Credit: Sydney Stringham/U of Utah
Photo of two pigeons.
 
Mutations in three genes cause different feather pigmentations in domestic rock pigeons, such as these English trumpeter pigeons.
Credit: Sydney Stringham/U of Utah

Domestic rock pigeons come in myriad colors—intense red, blue-black, and a variety of shades in between. Scientists have known that three genes are responsible for the coloring, but the knowledge of which genes and the mechanism of their action had been lacking. Michael D. Shapiro and Eric T. Domyan of the University of Utah and their colleagues have now nailed down the source of the varied pigeon plumage. Mutations in the three genes, in different combinations, affect the proportions of the major melanin pigments pheomelanin and eumelanin, which give feathers their color (Curr. Biol. 2014, DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2014.01.020). Besides aiding in the understanding of pigeon feathers, the genes are of interest to scientists because they are also implicated in human conditions such as albinism and in the susceptibility to develop skin cancer. In fact, two of the genes, Tyrp1 and Sox10, are potential melanoma treatment targets. The Utah team sequenced genes from pigeon blood and feather samples, many collected from birds at pigeon shows in Utah. Understanding the complex interplay of the genes and their mutations in pigeons could give scientists added perspective on human skin problems, the researchers suggest.

 
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