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No evidence that carotenoid pigments boost either immune or antioxidant defenses in a songbird

  • Rebecca E. Koch
  • Andreas N. Kavazis
  • Dennis Hasselquist
  • Wendy R. Hood
  • Yufeng Zhang
  • Matthew B. Toomey
  • Geoffrey E. Hill
Publishing year: 2018-12-01
Language: English
Publication/Series: Nature Communications
Volume: 9
Issue: 1
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: Nature Publishing Group

Abstract english

Dietary carotenoids have been proposed to boost immune system and antioxidant functions in vertebrate animals, but studies aimed at testing these physiological functions of carotenoids have often failed to find support. Here we subject yellow canaries (Serinus canaria), which possess high levels of carotenoids in their tissue, and white recessive canaries, which possess a knockdown mutation that results in very low levels of tissue carotenoids, to oxidative and pathogen challenges. Across diverse measures of physiological performance, we detect no differences between carotenoid-rich yellow and carotenoid-deficient white canaries. These results add further challenge to the assumption that carotenoids are directly involved in supporting physiological function in vertebrate animals. While some dietary carotenoids provide indirect benefits as retinoid precursors, our observations suggest that carotenoids themselves may play little to no direct role in key physiological processes in birds.


  • Evolutionary Biology


  • Molecular Ecology and Evolution Lab
  • ISSN: 2041-1723
Dennis Hasselquist
E-mail: dennis [dot] hasselquist [at] biol [dot] lu [dot] se



+46 46 222 37 08



Research group


Doctoral students and postdocs

Research fellows


Jacob Roved

PhD Students, main supervisor

PhD Students, assistant supervisor


Interview about my research in the Swedish podcast "Forskarn & jag"