Issue Date: February 17, 2014
Three Genetic Mutations Produce Colorful Pigeons
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.
- Chemical & Engineering News
- ISSN 0009-2347
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