black cats genetically lucky

Black cats are luckier than previously thought — lucky for themselves, anyway. An unusually colored animal would seem to be much more likely to go extinct unless the genes responsible for the color provided some additional benefit to help it survive. Researchers believe that the genetic mutations that lead to a black coat color also may make the cats more resistant to disease, according to a report published in the March 4 Current Biology. A team from the National Cancer Institute and the University of Maryland found that a gene called MC1R, when mutated, makes jaguars black. Humans also have an MC1R gene, which is part of a family of genes that regulates what is allowed in through cell membranes. This suggests to researchers that the mutated gene may have something to do with making black cats — and humans — resistant to bacteria and viruses that can infect cells.

This news brief appeared in the Random Data column of the Boston Globe’s Health/Science section on 3/11/2003.
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