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The genetic secret of white flames

Camelids of this colour are valued by some sectors of the textile industry, as their fibres can be dyed in
12 September, 2019

Camelids of this colour are valued by some sectors of the textile industry, as their fibres can be dyed in different shades.

Finding the genes that determine the white color of flame fibers is a challenge for scientists looking to innovate in a sector of the textile industry that moves millions of dollars worldwide. It is the favorite color of some sectors of the market because it has the advantage that it can be dyed with any shade you want.

The downside is that, in the flames, the color of the offspring is very difficult to predict. For example, the traditional cross of two white specimens can give brown and even black offspring. A natural variability that baffles producers.

Now, Argentine scientists have made an advance that begins to put “color” to the issue. As revealed by Animal Genetics magazine, scientists from the Multidisciplinary Institute of Cell Biology (IMBICE), in La Plata, identified and obtained the sequence of two genes that are expressed in less quantity in white flames.

Those genes, called KIT and MITF-M, are not yet “responsible” for color, but their finding encourages the viability of the approach and renews the expectation of finding them.

“ Knowing the genes that determine color can be designed matching based on the genotypes of parents, not only on their external aspect,” the director of the advancement, Dr. Florencia Di Rocco, researcher at the Molecular Genetics Laboratory at IMBICE, which depends on CONICET, the University National de La Plata (UNLP) and the Scientific Research Commission of the Province of Buenos Aires (CIC).

That methodology could improve the specific production of the colors sought, Di Rocco added. In Jujuy alone, the production of flame fibre usually averages a total of 80 tons per year generating an income to the productive sector of about 12 million pesos.

Asked about this, the agronomist Hugo Lamas, researcher in camelid fibers at the Institute of Biology of the Height of the National University of Jujuy and INTA of Abra Pampa, told the Agency Cyta-leloir that “the search for white flames can put at risk the biodiversity of those camelids that present fibers from other colors such as black and gray.”

“ You need to be careful. If what happened in Peru happens, which almost made the flames of colors that are not white disappear, we will be in a big problem,” said Lamas, who since 1995 has been working in commercial processes and added fiber value of llamas and vicuñas. He added: “Biodiversity is a key aspect of the conservation of endemic animals. All knowledge is good, the problem is how it is used and the impact it has on the Andean communities.”

The study also involved Melina Anello, Silvana Daverio, Miriam Silbestro, and Lidia Vidal-Rioja, scientists from IMBICE.

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