Scientists Unravel Mystery of Albino Gorilla

In a word: inbreeding

By Ruth Brown,  Newser Staff

Posted Jun 14, 2013 6:26 PM CDT

(Newser) – Snowflake, the only known albino gorilla who was also the star attraction at the Barcelona Zoo until his death in 2003, owed his white coloring to a genetic mutation—but that's not the whole story. The eye-catching primate was a result of inbreeding, say Spanish researchers, who sequenced his genome and traced the cause of his albinism down to a single gene (a mutated form of SLC45A2, the same gene found in albino mice, horses, and chickens) carried by both his parents ... who were most likely also uncle and niece, Live Science reports.

Western lowland gorillas like Snowflake are not known for inbreeding, but the scientists say habitat loss may be limiting their mating choices. "If we are reducing much more the space that they have now, it is more likely that they will be forced to stay in the group and that will increase the consanguinity," says the lead researcher. The Telegraph shares a bit more of Snowflake's history: He was captured in Equatorial Guinea, formerly a Spanish colony, in 1966, and lived at the zoo for 37 years, during which time he fathered 22 gorillas —none albino.

Snowflake's mom was probably also his cousin.   (YouTube)
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