Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Scientists find gene responsible for color patterns in mice

Date:
February 27, 2011
Source:
Harvard University
Summary:
Scientists are moving closer to answering some age-old questions. How did the leopard get its spots? How did the zebra get its stripes? The answer may be a gene called Agouti, which the scientists have found governs color patterns in deer mice, the most widespread mammal in North America.

How did the leopard get its spots? How did the zebra get its stripes? Scientists find the gene responsible for mice being able to see color patterns.
Credit: iStockphoto

Scientists at Harvard University are moving closer to answering some age-old questions. How did the leopard get its spots? How did the zebra get its stripes?

The answer may be a gene called Agouti, which the Harvard team has found governs color patterns in deer mice, the most widespread mammal in North America. This gene, found in all vertebrates, may establish color pattern in a wide variety of species, a process that has been poorly understood at both the molecular and the evolutionary level.

"The question of how color patterns are established in vertebrates has been a black box," says Marie Manceau, a research associate in Harvard's Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology and lead author of a paper appearing this week in the journal Science. "Taking advantage of the simple color pattern of deer mice -- which have a dark back and a light belly -- we showed that small changes in the activity of a single pigmentation gene in embryos generate big differences in adult color pattern."

Manceau and senior author Hopi E. Hoekstra found that color patterns in these mice rely on the establishment of an embryonic "pre-pattern" of Agouti expression. In the mice they studied, this took place midway through gestation -- just 12 days after conception, well before the first pigments are ever produced in the skin.

Agouti had previously been known to affect the type of pigment found in vertebrate fur, feathers, and scales: Little expression of the gene in adults results in the production of dark pigments, while robust Agouti activity generally yields light pigment production. But Manceau and Hoekstra found that subtle changes in the gene's embryonic activity can also make a profound difference in the distribution of pigments across the entire body.

"During embryogenesis, Agouti is expressed in the belly, where it delays maturation of the cells that will eventually produce pigments," says Hoekstra, John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Natural Sciences at Harvard. "This leads to a lighter colored belly in adults, which is the most common color pattern across a wide variety of vertebrates, from fish to antelope."

Beyond color patterning, this study highlights how genetic and developmental mechanisms underlying trait variation can affect the evolution of natural diversity: Even small changes in Agouti gene expression can establish a completely new color pattern. In deer mice, natural selection drives changes in the amount and place of Agouti expression, which in turn results in new color patterns that can camouflage animals from visual predators in habitats including dark forests and light sandy beaches.

"It is hard not to speculate that Agouti plays a role in generating more complex patterns -- from stripes to spots -- in a diversity of vertebrates," Hoekstra says.

Manceau and Hoekstra now plan to continue researching the molecular basis of animals with more complex color patterns, such as zebra mice, chipmunks, thirteen-lined ground squirrels, and perhaps eventually even leopards and zebras.

"Are the same pre-patterning mechanisms we see in deer mice also involved in the formation and evolution of more complex pigment patterns, like the racing stripes of chipmunks?" Manceau asks. "That's the exciting question now."

Manceau and Hoekstra's co-authors on the Science paper are Vera S. Domingues and Ricardo Mallarino, both of Harvard's Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology. Their work was supported by the National Science Foundation and the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Harvard University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. M. Manceau, V. S. Domingues, R. Mallarino, H. E. Hoekstra. The Developmental Role of Agouti in Color Pattern Evolution. Science, 2011; 331 (6020): 1062 DOI: 10.1126/science.1200684

Cite This Page:

Harvard University. "Scientists find gene responsible for color patterns in mice." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 February 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110224145555.htm>.
Harvard University. (2011, February 27). Scientists find gene responsible for color patterns in mice. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 16, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110224145555.htm
Harvard University. "Scientists find gene responsible for color patterns in mice." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110224145555.htm (accessed April 16, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Ebola Outbreak Now Linked To 121 Deaths

Ebola Outbreak Now Linked To 121 Deaths

Newsy (Apr. 15, 2014) The ebola virus outbreak in West Africa is now linked to 121 deaths. Health officials fear the virus will continue to spread in urban areas. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
In Washington, a Push to Sterilize Stray Cats

In Washington, a Push to Sterilize Stray Cats

AFP (Apr. 14, 2014) To curb the growing numbers of feral cats in the US capital, the Washington Humane Society is encouraging residents to set traps and bring the animals to a sterilization clinic, after which they are released.. Duration: 02:29 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
After Attack, Officials Kill 5 Bears in Florida

After Attack, Officials Kill 5 Bears in Florida

AP (Apr. 14, 2014) Florida wildlife officials say they have killed five bears following an attack on a woman in a suburban subdivision in central Florida. Forty-five year-old Terri Frana was attacked by a large bear in her driveway Saturday. (April 14) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Uruguay Opens Its First Cannabis Library

Uruguay Opens Its First Cannabis Library

AFP (Apr. 13, 2014) Uruguay opened its first Cannabis Library in Montevideo on Saturday, where people can come and read books on cannabis or take classes on how to grow the plant or even how to cook with it. Duration: 01:20 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins