Snakes reveal the origin of skin colours

The skin colour of vertebrates depends on chromatophores — cells found in the deep layers of the skin. The group of Athanasia Tzika in Michel Milinkovitch’s laboratory, specialists in genetic determinism and colour evolution in reptiles, is studying the wide variety of colours sported by different individuals within the corn snake species. The research demonstrates that the dull colour of the lavender variant of corn snake is caused by a mutation in the LYS gene involved in forming lysosomes, the “garbage disposal” vesicles of cells. This single mutation is enough to affect every skin colour, demonstrating that both the reflective crystals and pigments are stored in lysosome-related vesicles. The UNIGE study marks a significant step forward in our understanding of the origin of colours and patterns in the skin of vertebrates.

The article was published in PNAS on October 5th, 2020.

Press release from UNIGE.