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article imagePigeon color comes down to just three genes

By Tim Sandle     Feb 10, 2014 in Science
Mutations in just three key genes that determine feather color in domestic rock pigeons. The research is significant because the same genes control pigmentation of human skin and can be responsible for melanoma and albinism.
Until this study was undertaken the specific mutations that control color in rock pigeons (Columba livia) were unknown. Rock pigeons are common across many of the world’s cities. The species includes the domestic pigeon (including the fancy pigeon). Across all pigeon breeds, mutations in three major genes explain a huge amount of color variation.
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. Different forms of a third gene, named Slc45a2, make the pigeons' colors either intense or washed out.
The findings are important because mutations in these genes can be responsible for skin diseases and conditions such as melanoma and albinism in people. Both Tyrp1 and Sox10 are potential targets for treatment of melanoma, whereas mutations in Slc45a2 in humans can lead to changes in skin color, including albinism (lack of skin color).
The study was carried out at the University of Utah. The findings have been published in the journal Current Biology, in a paper titled “and Combinatorial Effects of Pigmentary Gene Mutations in the Domestic Pigeon”.
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