In 1902's Just So Stories, Rudyard Kipling famously explained how the leopard got his spots in what would today be deemed an extremely racist fable. Now Christopher Kaelin, Kelly McGowan, and Gregory Barsh, from the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, have discovered how the tabby cat got its stripes: from a signal in the fetus. Their findings appear in Nature Communications.
"The genes that control simple color variation, like albinism or melanism, are the same in all mammals for the most part. However, the biology underlying mammalian color pattern has long been a mystery, one in which we have now gained new insight using domestic cats," said Barsh, who is editor-in-chief of PLoS Genetics.
To trace the origins of the common striped coat pattern, the team analyzed gene expression in single skin cells from fetuses collected from feral cats in trap-neuter-release programs being spayed – half of such females are pregnant. The work revealed a novel mechanism behind the origin of stripes, like Jackie's in the photograph.
Alan Turing's Idea
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