Rare gorilla’s albinism traced to inbreeding

snowflake the gorilla

Snowflake, the only albino gorilla known to man, was a star at the Barcelona Zoo for decades.

Captured in Equatorial Guinea, Snowflake lived at the zoo from 1966 until his death in 2003, becoming an iconic figure of not only the zoo but the city itself.

Now Spanish researchers say they have determined that Snowflake’s albinism was the result of inbreeding.

After carrying out genome sequencing on Snowflake’s remains, researchers at Barcelona’s Institute of Evolutionary Biology have concluded that his albinism was caused by a “mutation of the SLC45A2 gene” which was transmitted to him by both parents, according to Agence France-Presse.

“Genes causing albinism are recessive. That is, to be albino, you have to have the two chromosomes with the mutation for albinism,” Tomas Marques, the director of the team that carried out the study, told the wire service.

Snowflake’s grandfather probably carried the recessive albino genes, Marques said.

Then two of his descendants probably paired off – a rare case where an animal receives two recessive albino genes, one from each parent – and the result was Snowflake, an albino gorilla.

Snowflake was a Western Lowland Gorilla. He was recognized worldwide and mentioned in tourist guides and put on postcards, becoming the unofficial mascot for the city of Barcelona.

Snowflake was captured in Equatorial Guinea, a former Spanish colony, after hunters killed the rest of his clan. He was taken to the Barcelona Zoo in 1966, where he lived until his death from skin cancer in 2003.

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4 thoughts on “Rare gorilla’s albinism traced to inbreeding

  1. A little off topic here but whenever I read about albinism, it makes me think of the great Texas bluesman Johnny Winter. His brother Edgar, also a musician, is an albino as well. Neither of Johnny or Edgar’s parents are albino but obviously both carry the gene for albinism. That gene is a recessive gene so the odds of donating a recessive gene from both parents to produce an albino is small. In the case of the Winter family, the odds of having two albino brothers from two non-albinos must be infinitesimal. I have tried to find that information a number of times but have never had any success. I guess it could be mathematically solved but statistics was never my strong point. Does anyone out there know the answer to this? What are the odds of having two albino brothers in one family when neither parent is albino?

      • I know. I have more topics to write than I have time to write, and that’s without responding to articles about topics I understand! And I’m retired! Yikes! Nonetheless, I do love that you do it! You have great topics! 🙂

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