Genes behind cat spots and stripes revealed

Tuesday, September 14, 2021 (HealthDay News)

Your favorite tabby cats may look a lot like their wild relatives, but they all share important genes that give them a unique look.

It has long been a mystery why cat coats are adorned with stripes, spots and stains. Researchers have now identified specific genes that regulate the development of these fur patterns in all domestic cats, large wild cat species, and perhaps even other mammals.

“Color patterns are one of these unsolved biological mysteries. There is no reliable model organism to study them. Mice have no streaks or spots,” said Stanford University of California. Dr. Gregory Bursh, the lead author, Professor Emeritus of Genetics, said. “The color patterns and volatility found in animals such as tigers, cheetahs and zebras have raised some central questions for us.”

Birsch’s team wanted to understand the genetic and cellular mechanisms that underlie these patterns and how they evolve to produce the shapes and morphological varieties found today.

While studying the tissue of a cat’s fetal body, researchers discovered a “pre-pattern” in the skin of the cat. It is thicker where dark fur develops and thinner where the fur is lighter in color.

“We call this step” establishment “, and it happens long before the color appears and long before the hair follicles mature,” Bursh said in a Stanford news release.

Researchers used this as a map showing which cells were involved in creating the pattern and when they were formed.By examining genetics make up Within individual cells, they found that a gene called DKK4 was active in thick skin, but not in thin skin.

The investigator then studied Abyssinian cats. They are known for their fur, which is crushed together with blurry colors and dark markings, like the shade of a gray pencil on an orange-brown coat.

This appearance, unlike the appearance of a tabby cat, is known as a “tick”. And researchers found that it was created by a mutation in the DKK4 gene.

“Removing DKK4 does not completely eliminate the dark areas, but they are smaller and more dense,” says Bursh.

Even pure white and even black cats have patterns under their fur.

Researchers explained that two different processes create color patterns. The first creates a pattern as the cat’s embryo develops. The second transforms that pattern into the pigment produced by the hair follicles.

White cats lack pigment. In other plain cats, the study authors say the pattern is overwritten by instructions to produce only one color.

Still, the mystery is how DKK4 “draws” the color pattern of domestic cats, but scientists know that it interacts with an essential class of protein called WNT.

WNT and DKK4 work together to form a pre-pattern when the embryo is only 2-3 mm long. DKK4 is involved in marking areas of pigmented hair, but it is unclear how these areas of skin “remember” which target pigments are produced.

“This is one of the big open questions in our work: how to connect the process of pre-pattern formation to the process of implementing patterns later in development,” says Barsh. .. “That’s what we are actively trying to understand.”

This is not the only answer to the question why cats have different colors.

Researchers have previously identified another gene that controls coat color changes in tabby cats. It is also the gene that causes the difference between a cheetah and a king cheetah. Cheetahs have a thicker, more prominent fur pattern.

“For example, there are still other genes behind why some cats have spots and some cats have stripes,” says Bursh.

The research team said it plans to investigate this further.

Survey results were released on September 7th Nature Communications..

For more information

Scientific American Cat behavior..

Source: Stanford Medicine, News Release, September 7, 2021

Kara Mures

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Genes behind cat spots and stripes revealed

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