Nav: Home

The making of 'Fancy Mouse'

August 27, 2019

For the past few hundred years, the colorful hair and unique patterns of the so-called "Fancy Mouse" have made them the stars of pet shows in Japan and beyond. Now, scientists have finally revealed the true cause of the genetic mutation responsible for the iconic black pigmentation in the popular East Asian pet.

Their findings were published on August 2, 2019 in Communications Biology.

All mammals possess an "agouti gene," which controls the distribution of melanin pigment that determines the color of hair, skin and eyes. The dominant A allele -- the variant form of a gene that gives rise to specific physical traits -- restricts black pigmentation, and its presence in wild mice results in an "agouti mouse" with a coat comprised of black and yellow banded hairs. "Nonagouti mice," by contrast, possess two a/a alleles due to a hypomorphic mutation of the agouti gene. This mutation causes an almost entirely loss of gene function, resulting in the mouse's coat consisting of only black hair.

In addition to being popular pets, nonagouti mice have been used for a variety of studies into the mechanism and role of pigmentation and the production, storage and distribution of melanin, as well as the link between coat color and behavior.

"Nonagouti mutation is one of the most famous, classical mutations in mouse genetics. Until now, it has been thought that the insertion of a single retrovirus, called VL30, into the gene responsible for expressing hair color is the cause of the nonagouti mutation that results in black coat color in East Asian mice," said study co-author, Tsuyushi Koide, an associate professor in the Mouse Genomics Resource Laboratory at the National Institute of Genetics (NIG), and the Department of Genetics, SOKENDAI (The Graduate University for Advanced Studies) in Japan.

"In our paper, we clarified the true cause of the nonagouti mutation and showed its historical origin. These findings provide a clearer understanding of one of the most well-known mutations in mice," said Koide, who adds that a better understanding of the cause of nonagouti mutation could be useful for many research fields.

In the study, another endogenous retrovirus, known as β4, was found in VL3, and β4, but not VL30, interrupts the agouti gene expression. The researchers used a genome editing technique whereby the genome DNA sequence is efficiently inserted or removed to effect a change or mutation. By using these 'molecular technique' to precisely target and delete the β4 retrovirus located within the VL30 virus on the DNA strand of fertilized mouse eggs that were then inserted into pseudopregnant female mice, the coat color of the neonatal pups was changed from nonagouti (black hairs) to agouti (black and yellow banded hairs). These results show that insertion of a new type of retrovirus β4 into the VL30 retrovirus is the true cause of black coat color, and not the VL30 alone.

After analyzing DNA samples from black (nonagouti) mice as well as a series of wild-derived strains, the researchers also found that the nonagouti trait originated from a line of East Asian mice that were most likely related to Japanese fancy mice.

"We found that the insertion of the β4 retrovirus into VL30 occurred in the lineage of Japanese fancy mice," said Koide. "This mutation was then introduced into a variety of laboratory mice including a standard strain in the early days of mouse genetics."

According to Koide, the insertion of the β4 retrovirus is also found in the gene that causes another type of classical mutation -- piebald coloration -- in mice. "The piebald mutation was also found in the Japanese fancy mice and is known to cause the characteristic black and white piebald pattern," said Koide.

The authors speculated that the β4 retrovirus actively spread within the founder group of Japanese fancy mice. "It will be important to understand when and how β4 was infected into the mouse DNA and the genetic consequences of it amplifying and spreading into several genes that form part of the genetic makeup of the mouse," said Koide.
About National Institute of Genetics (NIG)

National Institute of Genetics (NIG) was established to carry out broad and comprehensive research in genetics. NIG contributes to the development of academic research as one of the inter-university research institutes constituting the Research Organization of Information and Systems (ROIS).

About the Research Organization of Information and Systems (ROIS)

ROIS is a parent organization of four national institutes (National Institute of Polar Research, National Institute of Informatics, the Institute of Statistical Mathematics and National Institute of Genetics) and the Joint Support-Center for Data Science Research. It is ROIS's mission to promote integrated, cutting-edge research that goes beyond the barriers of these institutions, in addition to facilitating their research activities, as members of inter-university research institutes.

Research Organization of Information and Systems

Related Science Articles:

75 science societies urge the education department to base Title IX sexual harassment regulations on evidence and science
The American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) today led 75 scientific societies in submitting comments on the US Department of Education's proposed changes to Title IX regulations.
Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, biopharma, and pharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2018 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.
Science in the palm of your hand: How citizen science transforms passive learners
Citizen science projects can engage even children who previously were not interested in science.
Applied science may yield more translational research publications than basic science
While translational research can happen at any stage of the research process, a recent investigation of behavioral and social science research awards granted by the NIH between 2008 and 2014 revealed that applied science yielded a higher volume of translational research publications than basic science, according to a study published May 9, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Xueying Han from the Science and Technology Policy Institute, USA, and colleagues.
Prominent academics, including Salk's Thomas Albright, call for more science in forensic science
Six scientists who recently served on the National Commission on Forensic Science are calling on the scientific community at large to advocate for increased research and financial support of forensic science as well as the introduction of empirical testing requirements to ensure the validity of outcomes.
More Science News and Science Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Erasing The Stigma
Many of us either cope with mental illness or know someone who does. But we still have a hard time talking about it. This hour, TED speakers explore ways to push past — and even erase — the stigma. Guests include musician and comedian Jordan Raskopoulos, neuroscientist and psychiatrist Thomas Insel, psychiatrist Dixon Chibanda, anxiety and depression researcher Olivia Remes, and entrepreneur Sangu Delle.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#537 Science Journalism, Hold the Hype
Everyone's seen a piece of science getting over-exaggerated in the media. Most people would be quick to blame journalists and big media for getting in wrong. In many cases, you'd be right. But there's other sources of hype in science journalism. and one of them can be found in the humble, and little-known press release. We're talking with Chris Chambers about doing science about science journalism, and where the hype creeps in. Related links: The association between exaggeration in health related science news and academic press releases: retrospective observational study Claims of causality in health news: a randomised trial This...