Lethal genetic blindness found in a rare Scottish bird

Lethal genetic blindness found in a rare Scottish bird

The last remaining Scottish populations of the rare red-billed chough are being affected by a genetic mutation causing lethal blindness, a new study from the University of Aberdeen and the Scottish Chough Study Group and funded by NERC and Scottish Natural Heritage has shown.

Blindness was first observed in a chough chick in 1998 and small numbers of blind chicks have occurred in most years subsequently.

Blind chicks can survive in the nest while being fed by their parents, but once they leave the nest they die very quickly.

A similar condition occurs in humans and is caused by a genetic mutation and now this new research, which is published today in the Journal of Animal Ecology suggests that the blindness in the Scottish chough population is also caused by a genetic mutation.

Furthermore, the research shows that non-blind individuals that carry the mutant gene are likely to be widely-distributed within the Scottish chough population and therefore eradicating the mutation is likely to be difficult.

Amanda Trask, a PHD student at the University of Aberdeen who undertook the study said: “Our research shows that the blindness mutation is likely to persist in the population into the future despite being lethal in blind individuals. This is because non-blind individuals that carry the mutant gene produce large numbers of chicks per year, causing the mutation to be passed into the next generation.

“Choughs are now very rare in the UK and there are just two populations remaining in Scotland, on the Islands of Islay and Colonsay. The Scottish Chough Study Group has been studying these populations since 1981 to determine the causes of the population decline and work out strategies to reverse it.

“Despite being lethal, blindness actually only affects a few chough chicks each year and should probably not be the priority concern for Scottish chough conservation, compared to managing habitat for choughs. However, the blindness may be a symptom of the poor ‘genetic health’ of the population. Conservation strategies to manage these genetic concerns will need to be considered in the future.”

Author
Laura Graham

Search News

Browse by Month

2017

  1. Jan
  2. Feb
  3. Mar
  4. Apr
  5. May
  6. Jun
  7. Jul There are no items for July 2017
  8. Aug There are no items for August 2017
  9. Sep There are no items for September 2017
  10. Oct There are no items for October 2017
  11. Nov There are no items for November 2017
  12. Dec There are no items for December 2017

2013

  1. Jan There are no items for January 2013
  2. Feb There are no items for February 2013
  3. Mar There are no items for March 2013
  4. Apr There are no items for April 2013
  5. May There are no items for May 2013
  6. Jun
  7. Jul
  8. Aug
  9. Sep
  10. Oct
  11. Nov
  12. Dec