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Genetics and evolution of coloration in birds


We are interested in the molecular genetics of coloration in birds, and the insights this gives into sexual selection, avian diversification and the co-evolution of colour vision and coloration.

We recently identified a gene for bright red carotenoid coloration expressed in the beaks of zebra finches (CYP2J19, Mundy et al. 2016) that is opening up many new avenues of research.

We are performing a comparative study of the evolution of expression of CYP2J19 in weavers in relation to red coloration, which is an agonistic signal in males. We are also tracing the evolution of the duplication of CYP2J19 locus that is present in zebra finches, to understand the functional consequences of the duplication.


Twyman, H., Prager, M., Mundy, N. I. and S. Andersson (2018) Expression of a  carotenoid-modifying gene and the evolution of red coloration in ploceids. Mol. Ecol. (in press).

Mundy, N. I., Stapley, J., Bennison, C., Tucker, R., Twyman, H., Kim, K-W., Burke, T. A., Birkhead, T. R., Andersson, S., and J. Slate (2016) Red carotenoid  coloration in the zebra finch is controlled by a cytochrome P450 gene cluster. Current Biology 26, 1435-1440. DOI: 10.106/j.cub.2016.04.047      

Twyman, H., Valenzuela, N., Literman, R., Andersson, S. and N. I. Mundy (2016) Seeing red to being red: conserved genetic mechanism for red cone oil droplets and co-option for red coloration in birds and turtles. Proc. Roy Soc. B 283, 20161208. DOI:10.1098/rspb.2016.1208