Throughout history humans have preferred their pigs to be black, suggests study

September 6, 2016, University of Oxford
A modern feral Hawaiian pig may owe its black coat to its domesticated Polynesian ancestors. Credit: Jack Jeffrey Photography

New research suggests the Polynesians, Europeans and the Chinese have had a penchant for black pigs because of the novelty of their colour. Pigs have played an important cultural role in Hawaii since Polynesian explorers first brought them to Hawaii 800 years ago. Scientists led by Professor Greger Larson from Oxford examined the DNA sequences of modern feral Hawaiian pigs and discovered that a novel mutation is responsible for their black coats, a significant finding because the pigs were expected to have either the Asian or the European genetic mutation leading to their black colour. The study in the Royal Society Open Science journal, says wild pigs would naturally have camouflaged coats. However, human societies have independently selected domesticated pigs that express the trait of black-coloured coats on at least three separate occasions.

Debate has centred on whether Hawaii's modern feral pigs (modern populations that were once descended from but are now living in the wild) are from Polynesian stock or whether they descend primarily from the European domestic pigs that travelled with explorer Captain Cook who arrived in Hawaii in 1778.

Scientists find that today's ARE mainly the descendants of the Pacific family brought by the Polynesians. In addition, the scientists identified a new genetic mutation responsible for the black colouring of their coats. An international team of researchers studied the mitochondrial DNA and MC1R gene sequences in tissue samples collected from 57 modern feral Hawaiian pigs. They found a novel mutation in all the black-coloured pigs which is different to the mutation in European and Asian domestic pigs with black coats. This finding suggests that for thousands of years, humans in different parts of the world have been independently selecting and breeding pigs for their black colour.

Senior author Professor Greger Larson, from the Palaeogenomics and Bio-Archaeology Research Network at the University of Oxford, said: 'The first pigs introduced to Hawaii by the Polynesians were kept as domestic animals. No wild boar have black colours since natural selection only allows camouflaged pigs to survive long enough to reproduce. Humans, on the other hand, love all kinds of coloured coats and have selected for black coats at least three times independently in domestic pigs in Europe, Asia, and the Pacific. In the case of pigs, black has always been the new black.'

Existing academic literature describes how Polynesians were experienced sailors who spread across the Pacific region, bringing dogs, pigs, chickens and sweet potatoes in their boats. The study suggests that further research is needed to pinpoint where the domestic animals used by Polynesian explorers were originally sourced. Some scholars have said they believe South East Asia to be their original ancestral home.

The modern feral in Hawaii are considered as a scourge of the islands by many. Over the last few hundred years, they have uprooted and eaten indigenous forest vegetation and preyed on the eggs of native ground-nesting birds. The discovery of their unique historical lineage may inform future debates about how to manage them in a way that is culturally sensitive but also protects native Hawaiian flora and fauna, says the paper.

Explore further: Humans are reason for why domestic animals have strange and varied coat colors

More information: A novel MC1R allele for black coat colour reveals the Polynesian ancestry and hybridisation patterns of Hawaiian feral pigs, Royal Society Open Science, rsos.royalsocietypublishing.or … /10.1098/rsos.160304

Related Stories

Modern pigs found to have more wild boar genes than thought

September 1, 2015

(Phys.org)—An international team of researchers has found that domesticated pigs in Europe have a lot more wild boar in them than has been thought. In their paper published in Nature Genetics, the team describes their genetic ...

Michigan wants hunters to shoot feral pigs

January 30, 2008

Feral pigs have become such a problem in Michigan that the state Department of Natural Resources has asked deer hunters in 51 counties to shoot any they see.

Iberian pig genome remains unchanged after five centuries

September 17, 2014

A team of Spanish researchers have obtained the first partial genome sequence of an ancient pig. Extracted from a sixteenth century pig found at the site of the Montsoriu Castle in Girona, the data obtained indicates that ...

Pig study forces rethink of Pacific colonisation

March 15, 2007

A survey of wild and domestic pigs has caused archaeologists to reconsider both the origins of the first Pacific colonists and the migration routes humans travelled to reach the remote Pacific.

Recommended for you

Houseplants could one day monitor home health

July 20, 2018

In a perspective published in the July 20 issue of Science, Neal Stewart and his University of Tennessee coauthors explore the future of houseplants as aesthetically pleasing and functional sirens of home health.

Putting bacteria to work

July 20, 2018

The idea of bacteria as diverse, complex perceptive entities that can hunt prey in packs, remember past experiences and interact with the moods and perceptions of their human hosts sounds like the plot of some low-budget ...

LC10 – the neuron that tracks fruit flies

July 20, 2018

Many animals rely on vision to detect, locate, and track moving objects. Male Drosophila fruit flies primarily use visual cues to stay close to a female and to direct their courtship song towards her. Scientists from the ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

igorus
not rated yet Sep 08, 2016
So offensive!

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.