Mystery behind Odisha’s Black Tiger solved? This research might have some answers

Black Tiger IEThe researchers looked at the genetic analyses of other tigers in India and computer simulated data. (Image: IE)

Black Tiger in Odisha: Has the mystery behind the black tigers of Odisha finally been resolved? Black tigers are mostly found in Odisha’s Similipal and have been the subject of fascination for years due to their predominantly black coat. However, now, a team of scientists has found that a single mutation in a gene is what is causing the black stripes to become broad and encroach the tawny pelt on these tigers, sometimes even appearing to be completely dark. According to a report by news agency PTI, the team was led by Uma Ramakrishnan, an ecologist, and her student Vinay Sagar from the NCBS or the National Centre for Biological Sciences.

The team has found that the entire distinctive colouration in the black tigers is due to one mutation in the gene called Transmembrane Aminopeptidase Q or Taqpep.

The report cited NCBS professor Ramakrishnan as saying that their study marked the first and only one to look at the genetic basis for this look (phenotype) of the black tiger. She added that though this phenotype had been talked and written about and was a cause of fascination, this study marked the first time that the genetic underpinnings of the look were investigated scientifically.

The researchers looked at the genetic analyses of other tigers in India and computer simulated data. They found that the black tigers of Similipal could have come from tigers that had a very small founding population and could be inbred. The study was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal at the beginning of the week. It also noted that the black tigers in the Similipal are an isolated population in the eastern part of India, and therefore, there is very restricted gene flow between these tigers and others.

This, the study noted, can have key implications for the conservation of tigers because populations that are isolated and inbred are vulnerable to becoming extinct, that too over short periods of time.

What is more is that, so far, the black tigers have not been found in the wild in other parts of the world either, said Sagar.

The researchers collaborated with tiger experts in India and across the world, and found that pseudomelanistic or false-coloured coats were due to the genes. They then found out that the black tigers were essentially Bengal tigers having a single base mutation. It is different mutations in this gene itself that causes similar changes in the colours of the coat of many other species of the wild cats, including the majestic cheetahs.

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