Multi-functional albino alligator

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Multi-functional albino alligator

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albino alligator
courtesy of iamdonte

Meet Alistair the albino alligator (he hasn’t actually got a name but I feel the need to give him one).

He is the latest animal to be homed at the South Carolina Aquarium in the USA.  As well as being a fascinating creature to observe, Alistair is living in an aquarium because of his poor chances of survival in the wild.   The website states that albino alligators only manage a mere 24 hours of life before being eaten by predators.

If you were wondering, the reason he is multi-functional is that he can be used as a teaching aid when it comes to tackling various topics:

With KS3 (or KS2) you can concentrate on why albino animals are so rare in the wild, this fits nicely into a lesson on camouflage and predator/prey relationships.  There are some images of a range of other albino animals here.

With GCSE classes, you might like to look more at the genetics of albinism in humans, which is the result from a defect in the production of the pigment melanin in the skin, hair and eyes.  This is due to the disfunction of the melanin-producing cells (melanocytes) and is caused by a gene on chromosome 11.  It is inherited as an autosomal recessive trait, meaning the individual must inherit two defective genes from each parent for the disorder to occur.  Students could be asked to work out the probability of two carriers producing a child with the condition using genetic crosses.

The fact that most albino animals don’t grow to adulthood leads me to ponder why natural selection hasn’t done what it does best and removed the faulty gene from the gene pool – can anyone please tell me why?
Finally, the fact that Alistair has to live in an exhibit with low UV lighting could be used as an introduction to the role of melanin in the skin.  The reasons how it protects us against skin cancer and how UV light can cause this are all interesting topics for discussion and could also be integrated into a physics lesson.