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The secret of the white tiger

The white tiger lived in freedom for generations, although currently it can only be seen in zoos where it is bred in captivity in order to preserve its snowy coat. So far, the cause of the loss of the orange colour was a mystery. Researchers from Pekin University believe their attractive appearance is due to a single change in the gene for pigment, as published in the journal Current Biology. The scientists mapped the genome of a family of 16 tigers living in , including white and orange specimens. Then, the entire genome was sequenced from each member of the family.

Genetic analyzes have led to a pigment gene called SLC45A2, which had previously been associated with poor colour in modern Europeans and other animals, including horses, chickens and fish. The variant found in the White Tiger mainly inhibits the synthesis of red and yellow pigments, but has little or no effect on black, which is why white tigers keep their special dark stripes.

The historical archives of the presence of white tigers in the Indian subcontinent dates back to the sixteenth century, but unfortunately the last one known was shot in 1958. Many white tigers were killed when they were mature, suggesting that they were perfectly capable of living in the wild. Their main preys, such as deer, are prone to blindness.

Some white tigers in captivity show abnormalities such as strabismus, but researchers believe that these defects are the responsibility of human beings, so that they breed them inadequately. Therefore, they recommended an appropriate program to maintain the captive population of Bengal tigers in two colours healthily. They are even in favour of considering the reintroduction of white tigers in their natural habitat.

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