Crouching tiger, hidden disorders

Links between tiger coat color patterns and genetic disorders will be investigated this summer through Honors and Undergraduate Research’s (HUR) Summer Program for Undergraduate Research (SPUR).  Students will be provided with the chance to make meaningful contributions to the world of genetic research by participating in a project entitled “Deciphering Genomic Factors Contributing to the Development of Important Phenotypes and Associated Physical Abnormalities in Tigers” supported by the SPUR program. 

Jan Janecka, Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences, will lead the program this summer.  He and his students will analyze genetic material from tigers in an attempt to discover links between their coat color and associated disorders such as crossed eyes, cleft palates, spinal and facial abnormalities.

Throughout the summer, student researchers will perform tasks such as DNA extraction and sequencing.  They hope to discover the genes responsible for white coat color in tigers and determine how they might be related to the cause of genetic diseases.

“White tigers are popular and frequently exhibited by zoos and wildlife sanctuaries. Unfortunately there are several physical disorders that occur in white tigers.  Research is needed to resolve the molecular mechanism behind white coat color in tigers and its associated disorders,” wrote Janecka in his program proposal. Research in this area may have applications not only to tiger health and conservations, but to human disease as well by providing a better understanding of how genes involved in coat coloration also impact development.

With tigers being the most common big cat in captivity, and white tigers among the most valuable, the program hopes to provide answers to breeders’ questions about the health of these exotic animals.  Undergraduate students who participate in this program will play a vital role in the search for these answers.

Student findings will be documented and reported at the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) poster session at the end of the summer.  The students will also have the opportunity to share their findings with tiger facilities across Texas. This program hopes to stimulate the minds of young researchers and continue their interest in this project beyond the summer.  Students involved in this project will participate in the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program this upcoming fall and spring, which will provide them with the opportunity to expand their research projects into formal undergraduate theses.

Contact: Chrystina Rago, chrysrago@honors.tamu.edu

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