Wednesday, January 28, 2009
According to a recent article reporting on the work of geneticist Greger Larson, pigs developed their bright coat colors after domestication. When you think about it, this is really a no-brainer, as the coats of wild pigs and boar provide camouflage in the forest, and humans are the ones that created "breeds" that reflected what looked good to them over the long process of domestication. Accordingly, as Larson notes, the brightly colored coats reflect "the real human penchant for novelty."
The study does reveal in detail the mechanism for changes to coat color: mutations to the gene melanocortin receptor-1 (MC1R). These mutations account for pigs that are black, or pink, or spotted, all colors and patterns that would have a hard time surviving in the wild. Interestingly, a pink pig doesn't produce any melanin, making pink a "default" color.
Today's picture is one of my own, of wild hogs corralled at the Ocmulgee Wild Hog Festival in Abbeville, Georgia. These suckers would be hard to spot in the woods, that's for sure. The New Scientist article summarizing work published in PL0S Genetics can be found here.