Birds of a different color: Three major genes set feather hue in pigeons

Birds of a different color: Three major genes set feather hue in pigeons

Scientists have identified mutations in three key genes that determine feather color in domestic rock pigeons. The same genes control pigmentation of human skin and can be responsible for melanoma and albinism.

via All Top News — ScienceDaily:

Scientists at the University of Utah identified mutations in three key genes that determine feather color in domestic rock pigeons. The same genes control pigmentation of human skin.”Mutations in these genes can be responsible for skin diseases and conditions such as melanoma and albinism,” says Michael Shapiro, associate professor of biology and senior author of the study published online Feb. 6 in the journal Current Biology.”In humans, mutations of these genes often are considered ‘bad’ because they can cause albinism or make cells more susceptible to UV (ultraviolet sunlight) damage and melanoma because the protective pigment is absent or low,” says Eric Domyan, a biology postdoctoral fellow and first author of the study. “In pigeons, mutations of these same genes cause different feather colors, and to pigeon hobbyists that is a very good thing.”Pigeon breeders have drawn on their centuries-long experience to produce about 350 distinct pigeon breeds, focusing particularly on beak shape, plumage color and feather ornaments on the head, feet, beaks and elsewhere. But until this study, the specific mutations that control color in rock pigeons (Columba livia) were unknown.”Across all pigeon breeds, mutations in three major genes explain a huge amount of color variation,” Shapiro says.Various forms of a gene named Tyrp1 make pigeons either blue-black (the grayish color of common city pigeons), red or brown. Mutations of a second gene, named Sox10, makes pigeons red no matter what the first gene does. And different forms of a third gene, named Slc45a2, make the pigeons’ colors either intense or washed out.The scientists discovered how pigeons’ feather color is determined by different versions of these three genes — known as variants or alleles — and by what are called “epistatic” interactions, in which one gene obscures the effects of other genes.”Our work provides new insights about how mutations in these genes affect their functions and how the genes work together,” Shapiro says. “Many traits in animals, including susceptibility to diseases such as cancer, are controlled by more than one gene. To understand how these genes work together to produce a trait, we often have to move beyond studies of humans. It’s difficult to study interactions among the genes in people.””Both Tyrp1 and Sox10 are potential targets for treatment of melanoma,” he adds. …

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All Top News — ScienceDaily

Birds of a different color: Three major genes set feather hue in pigeons

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