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Re-painting the big pig-ture

Why do tame pigs show such variety in colouring, when their wild relatives are so plain? Swedish researchers know who is to blame. But the big question is why.
New research from the University of Uppsala and the Swedish Agricultural University, SLU, explain why domesticated pigs are more colorful than their wild relatives, such as wild boar. Professor Leif Andersson, at the Institution for medical biochemistry and microbiology, IMBIM, of Uppsala University is in charge of the study. His research team have studied the genetic variation of a melanocortin receptor, MC1R, found in both tame and wild pigs from Europe and Asia.

The MC1R receptor is of pivotal importance to the color of furred mammals. The researchers found that none of the differences of the DNA found in the wild boars could change the function of the protein. Any spontaneous mutations to the protein would be naturally discarded. Almost all the DNA-differences in the tame pigs, however, did change the function of the protein. The genetic variation of the domesticised animal showed so many differences, compared to that of the wild boars, that the selection for change of fur color must have been going on for a very long time.

This means that selective breeding is the most likely explanation behind the colorful apperance of tame pigs, according to the scientists. For thousands of years man have made breeding decisions, with the purpose of changing the colors of the animals. The question is why? One explanation to this may be that it is easier to find a run-away pig with a gaudy pattern or color. Another may be that the breeders just fancied the nice colors. The new findings are important, as proof to discard other theories. One of those is that the wild animals lost their variety in color since it was not a necessary feature, just as the same way an animal who spends its life in perpetual darkness may loose eye-sight.
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