Breeding planned: A panda with a cocoa look – that's what lies behind nature's whim

There are many cows with brown spots instead of black - but hardly anyone knows: There are also cocoa pandas, i.

Breeding planned: A panda with a cocoa look – that's what lies behind nature's whim

There are many cows with brown spots instead of black - but hardly anyone knows: There are also cocoa pandas, i.e. animals with light brown fur parts instead of the usual black. Chinese scientists explain that they are so rare that they should undoubtedly be considered national treasures. There is currently only one brown panda living in captivity, called Qizai. The goal should now be to specifically breed the animals with the rare coloring.

The giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca), with its distinctive black and white fur, is iconic. However, in 1985, a female panda with brown and white fur was discovered for the first time in China's Qinling Mountains, according to the research team led by Fuwen Wei from the Chinese Academy of Sciences. In the past four decades, only about a handful of other cacao pandas have been found in this region. They do not occur in other areas of China.

The scientists used samples from 225 normally colored and two brown pandas to analyze what caused the unusual coloring. Accordingly, a single modified gene – called Bace2 – is probably responsible for the light brown look.

When the mutation was introduced into black mice using the Crispr gene scissors, their fur color also changed to light brown, as the team reports in the journal "Proceedings" of the US National Academy of Sciences ("PNAS"). The mutation probably reduces the number and size of the so-called melanosomes, specialized components of cells that produce, store and transport the pigment melanin.

However, the team points out whether this assumption is actually correct must first be clarified by analyzing samples from other brown pandas. It is assumed that the mutation in pandas could be so rare because, in addition to the changed color, it has other harmful consequences for the animals. However, no effects on size or reproductive ability were found in Qizai and another animal, Dandan.

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