Science & Tech

Scientists have finally solved the mystery of rare brown pandas after four decades

Scientists have finally solved the mystery of rare brown pandas after four decades
AilieHM/Creative Commons

Pandas are some of the most adorable and, let’s face it, endearingly useless creatures in the animal kingdom.

But while they’re known for their unique markings, did you know that not all of them are black-and-white?

There are, in fact, brown-and-white pandas which are some of the most striking animals you’re likely to see (there are the smaller red pandas as well, of course, but they’re not closely related to giant pandas).

Brown pandas are actually among the most fascinating creatures in the world, due to the fact that scientists haven’t been able to officially confirm a reason behind their unusual markings since they first observed brown-and-white pandas 40 years ago in China.

Until now, that is.

For years research has focused on Qizai, who lives in the Louguantai Wild Animal Breeding and Protection Center in Xi’An, China, and who is the only brown-and-white panda in captivity.

Qizai is one of only seven brown-and-white pandas ever seen by humans, and the reason for his unusual fur has baffled scientists for years.

According to new research published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [via Nature], the reason for this has finally been uncovered – and it’s all to do with a missing sequence of DNA.

Brown pandas are missing DNA in Bace2, which is a gene that relates to pigmentation.

The hairs themselves also have a different make-up to hairs of black-and-white pandas, with the former containing fewer melanosomes which are responsible for pigmentation.

Shi Peng is an evolutionary geneticist at the CAS Kunming Institute of Zoology. Peng said:

“The breakthrough of this paper is the finding that the missing of a gene or genetic segment could also lead to the change of colour. From a genetics perspective, this is a brand-new discovery.”

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