Albino gorilla
Albino gorilla Snowflake, the only one known in the world, sits inside his cage in Barcelona zoo (Reuters)Reuters

Scientists have revealed that inbreeding was the reason behind the white colouring of the famous albino gorilla that lived in a Barcelona Zoo until 2003.

Snowflake, a male Western lowland gorilla, was the only known albino (white colouring) gorilla in the world. He was born in the wild and was captured by farmer-hunters in the 1960s. The primate arrived at the Barcelona Zoo in 1966 and lived for 40 years before succumbing to skin cancer in 2003.

Although few studies have been carried out on Snowflake, researchers were not able to find out as to what caused the gorilla's white colouration.

Now, a new study by researchers led by Tomas Marques Bonet at the University of Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona has found that the gorilla's white colouring is a product of inbreeding. The Spanish researchers sequenced the entire genome of snowflake and found a particular gene known as SLC45A2 as the cause behind the primate's albinism.

Researchers found that Snowflake inherited a mutant form of this SLC45A2 gene from both of his parents, who were closely related to each other, reported LiveScience.

The primate might have born to the pairing between an uncle and a niece."We discovered that in-breeding greatly increases the chances of albinism," Bonet was quoted as saying by UK daily, The Telegraph. "This might help the study of the condition in humans."

Albinism is a condition occured due to the inheritance of altered genes that do not produce enough amount of a pigment called melanin. Those detected with this condition will have little or no pigmentation in their skin and hair, leading to white colouration.

People with albinism may face a higher risk of vision and skin problem. There are different types of albinism and Snowflake had oculocutaneous albinism (OCA, sub-type 1A), which is commonly found in humans, according to the Barcelona Zoo's biography of Snowflake.

Despite being an albino, snowflake fathered 22 offspring that were non-albinos as the primate mated with females with no albinism.

The details of the findings are published in the journal BMC Genomics.