Snowflake, the albino gorilla who was the Barcelona Zoo's main attraction for 40 years, may have gotten his white color as a result of inbreeding, according to new research. Spanish researchers believe that after sequencing the gorilla's entire genome, they have found what caused Snowflake's white coat: he was the offspring of his uncle and niece.

Albinism is a melanin defect that results in a lack of pigment in the skin, hair, and eyes. The defect is caused when a genetic mutation stops the body from producing melanin, which is the primary determinant of skin, hair, and eye color.

Tomas Marques-Bonet of the Institut de Biologia Evolutiva at the University of Pompeu Fabra led the team of researchers who used Snowflake's frozen blood to sequence his genome. They compared that sequence to those of humans and nonalbino gorillas. By doing that, they were able to pinpoint the cause of Snowflake's mutation — a gene known as SLC45A2, which is believed to also cause albinism in mice, horses, chickens, and some fish.

According to LiveScience, the gene was inherited in a mutant form from both of the gorilla's parents. Researchers found that 12 percent of the genes from Snowflake's parents matches, meaning that his conception was likely the result of his uncle and niece mating.

Generally, gorillas do not usually inbreed. But Marques-Bonet says that the likelihood of gorillas inbreeding increases as they have less opportunity to roam away from their families to find mates. The human population, building cities and homes in lands formerly inhabited by animal species, could be a contributory factor.

"If we are reducing much more the space that they have now, it is more likely that they will be forced to stay in the group and that will increase the consanguinity (shared blood)," Marques-Bonet said.

Snowflake was captured by villagers in Equatorial New Guinea in 1966. Snowflake was sent to live at the Barcelona Zoo after a brief period of adaptation. He fathered 22 offspring while he was there. None of them were albino. Snowflake was euthanized in 2003 after a two-year bout with skin cancer.

View footage of Snowflake's last years below.