Subscribe

Albino gorilla was inbred, say scientists

Albino gorilla: A genetic study of Snowflake, the world's only known albino gorilla, found that he was likely the product of a pairing between an uncle and a niece.

  • close
    Snowflake, an albino gorilla from Equatorial Guinea, lived for almost 40 years at the Barcelona Zoo, where his complexion made him a star attraction.
    Courtesy Institut de Biologia Evolutiva
    View Caption
  • About video ads
    View Caption
of

The most popular resident of the Barcelona Zoo likely had a mother who was also his first cousin. His maternal grandparent would therefore have been his aunt or uncle, so his paternal grandparents would have also been his maternal great-grandparents. And his offspring were his first cousins twice removed. 

It's true: Snowflake, an albino Western lowland gorilla that lived in the Barcelona Zoo for almost 40 years, is the product of inbreeding, according to an analysis of the deceased primate's genome.  

Snowflake was born in the wild and captured by villagers in Equatorial Guinea in 1966 when he was only a year or two old. He lived at the Barcelona Zoo, where his milky complexion made him a main attraction, until his death in 2003 from skin cancer.

Using frozen blood samples, a team of 30 scientists led by Tomas Marques-Bonet of the Institut de Biologia Evolutiva at the University of Pompeu Fabra, sequenced Snowflake's genome. 

In the study, published in the current issue of the journal BMC Genomics, the researchers describe how they traced his albinism to a single gene – called SLC45A2 – that mediates the synthesis of skin, hair, and eye pigmentation in many animals, including mice, horses, tigers, some species of fish, and humans. 

"Finally, after so many years, it is a joy to explain why Snowflake was albino," said Dr. Marqués-Bonet, in a press release.

The researchers also found that Snowflake's parents shared 12.5 percent of their genes. After running computer simulations that took into account the influence of gender on the rates of genetic recombination, the researchers concluded that the gorilla was most likely the product of a pairing between an uncle and a niece, or possibly an aunt and a nephew.

Previous analyses of parentage of other members of Snowflake's species have not found inbreeding, suggesting that it is a rare behavior among Western lowland gorillas. 

When relatives mate, it increases the probability that two copies of any given gene will be derived from the same ancestor, and therefore will be identical. Albinism, an absence of a pigmentation chemical called melanin, is a recessive trait, meaning that it takes two of the genes for that trait for it to be expressed. 

Albinism is believed to affect all vertebrates. It affects about one in 17,000 humans, and is most prevalent among sub-Saharan populations. 

About these ads
Sponsored Content by LockerDome
 
 
Make a Difference
Inspired? Here are some ways to make a difference on this issue.
FREE Newsletters
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.
 

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...

Save for later

Save
Cancel

Saved ( of items)

This item has been saved to read later from any device.
Access saved items through your user name at the top of the page.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You reached the limit of 20 saved items.
Please visit following link to manage you saved items.

View Saved Items

OK

Failed to save

You have already saved this item.

View Saved Items

OK