Albino Gorilla Snowflake Was Result of Inbreeding, Research Shows

Monday, 17 Jun 2013 06:32 PM

By Morgan Chilson

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The only known albino gorilla in the world was the result of inbreeding, researchers determined after sequencing the animal’s genome. Snowflake lived at the Barcelona zoo for 40 years, dying from skin cancer in 2003.

For years, scientists have tried to determine the genetic mutation that caused Snowflake to be born with completely white coloring, but they couldn’t find anything.

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He was born in the wild and was captured in 1966 in the Equatorial Guinea, according to Discovery News.

After sequencing the gorilla’s entire genome, Spanish researchers at the University of Pompeu Fabra say Snowflake was probably the result of a mating between an uncle and a niece.

Head researcher Tomas Marques-Bonet used frozen blood from Snowflake to run tests, and determined a mutant gene from both his parents caused the albinism, according to LiveScience.

Twelve percent of the gorilla’s genes matched, which most likely indicates an uncle-niece match.

Marques-Bonet told LiveScience that no one has ever reported inbreeding in Western lowland gorillas like Snowflake, but other subspecies have been known to mate with family members.

The researchers reported their findings in the BMC Genomics journal in May.

Snowflake was listed as one of seven famous albino animals by Mother Nature Network, a list that included a California alligator, Claude; Snowdrop the Penguin from England; and Onya Birri, a penguin in Bristol.

Albinism occurs when an animal has a less than normal amount of melanin, which colors the skin, hair and eyes. Researchers find that albinos occur once in every 10,000 births in mammals.

In the wild, the albino animals don’t survive very well because they can be so easily picked out by predators, according to Discovery Health.

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