There are many cows with brown spots instead of black – but hardly anyone knows: there are also cocoa pandas, that is, animals with light brown parts of their fur instead of the usual black. Chinese scientists explain that they are so rare that they should undoubtedly be considered a national treasure.

There is currently only one brown panda living in captivity, named Qizai. Now the goal should be to specially breed animals with rare colors.

First sighting of a brown panda in 1985.

With its distinctive black and white fur, the giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) is iconic. However, in 1985, a female panda with brown and white fur was first discovered in China’s Qinling Mountains, according to a research team led by Fuwen Wei of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Only a few other cacao pandas have been discovered in the region over the past four decades. They are not found in other areas of China.

Is one modified gene responsible for this?

The scientists used samples from 225 normally colored pandas and two brown pandas to analyze the cause of the unusual coloration. Accordingly, a single modified gene called Bace2 is likely responsible for the light brown color.

White fur with black coloring is the color combination that giant pandas are famous for.

© IMAGO/imageBROKER/alimdi/Arterra

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

However, the team notes that the validity of this assumption must first be determined by analyzing samples from other brown pandas. It is assumed that the mutation could be so rare in pandas because, in addition to the changed color, it has other harmful consequences for the animals. However, in Qizai and another animal, Dandan, no effect on size or reproductive performance was found. (dpa/delay)


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