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Interaction of just 2 genes governs coloration patterns in mice

ice' have evolved a lighter pigmentation than their mainland relatives, a coloration that helps camouflage them from predators that include owls, herons, and hawks."

Previous research has shown that such predators, all of which hunt by sight, will preferentially catch darker mice on the white sand beaches, providing a powerful opportunity for natural selection to evolve increased camouflage.

Through a detailed genomic analysis, Hoekstra, Steiner, and Weber identified two pigmentation genes, for the melanocortin-1 receptor (Mc1r) and an agouti signaling protein (Agouti) that binds to this receptor and turns it off. A single amino-acid mutation in Mc1r gene can weaken the receptor's activity, or a mutation in the Agouti gene can increase the amount of protein present without changing the protein's sequence, also reducing Mc1r activity and yielding lighter pigmentation.

Both genes affect the type and amount of melanin in individual hairs. When both genes are turned on, the mouse is dark in color. A mutation that changes either gene leads to a somewhat blonder mouse, but it is the combination of mutations in both genes that produces a mouse very light in color.

"Thus, two different types of mutations in two different genes each contribute to the light coloration of beach mice," Hoekstra says. "This work represents a first step into understanding how unique patterns of fur color are produced via a simple interaction between genes."


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Contact: Steve Bradt
steve_bradt@harvard.edu
617-496-8070
Harvard University
13-Aug-2007


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