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The coat pattern of domestic and wild cats is very diverse, and researchers have recently identified some effective genes in determining the coat pattern of cats. Ever wondered where the stripes on your furry cat’s coat come from? A new study of domestic cats has revealed which genes are responsible for the cats’ distinctive fur patterns, and suggests that the same genetics may also be responsible for the distinctive coats of wild cats such as tigers and cheetahs.

How cats acquire their coat patterns has been a decades-old mystery in the biological sciences, Hudson Alpha in Alabama wrote in an email to LiveScience. About 70 years ago, scientists began to theorize why and how organisms acquire periodic patterns, such as the stripes on a zebra’s coat or the jelly patches on the body of a cocoon worm. In some animals, such as the zebrafish, these patterns are due to the arrangement Different types of cells appear; But in mammals, skin and hair cells are exactly the same throughout the body, and the color pattern is caused by differences in genetic activity between, for example, the cells under the dark band and the cells under the light band.

Therefore, the question of where the stripes on a cat’s coat come from depends on how and when different genes are activated in their cells and how these genes affect the animal’s development. In short, it’s complicated. Now, in a new study published September 7 in the journal Nature Communications, Barash and his colleagues identified several genes that work together to determine the coat pattern of cats.

In a 2012 study in the journal Science published, a gene called Taqpep, or transgenic aminopeptidase Q, had been identified. Cats with one copy of the Taqpep gene had thin, dark stripes, while cats with a mutated version of the gene had large rings of dark fur. The looped version of this gene is most abundant in spayed cats. To investigate what other genes might be responsible for the diverse coat patterns in cats, the researchers began collecting discarded tissue from clinics that sterilize spayed cats.

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Some isolated cat uteri contained non-viable embryos, which the researchers examined in the laboratory. They noticed that between 28 and 30 days of age, thick and thin areas develop in the skin of the cat embryos. In the later stages of development, this thick and thin skin produces hair follicles that produce different types of melanin: eumelanin for dark fur and pheomelanin for light fur.

According to Barash, the mechanism responsible for the color pattern occurs early in the development process; That is, before the formation of hair follicles and inside the cells that do not make pigment, but participate in the formation of the structure of the hair follicle. By discovering this pattern, the researchers investigated which genes were active and led to the development of thick skin to see if certain genes control the formation of this pattern.

The researchers found that in 20-day-old embryos, several genes involved in cell growth and development They would suddenly become active on the skin that would later thicken and grow dark fur-producing follicles. These genes play a role in the Wnt signaling pathway, which is a molecular chain reaction that directs the cell to differentiate into certain types of cells.

One of the active genes was Dkk4. The Dkk4 gene encodes a protein that attenuates Wnt signaling. In the case of cat fur, competition between Dkk4 and Wnt appears to determine whether a patch of fur becomes dark or light. In dark patches, Dkk4 and Wnt neutralize each other; But in bright patches, Dkk4 overpowers Wnt. The researchers’ findings support a theory that Alan Turing, a prominent mathematician, proposed in the 1950s.

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Turing proposed that alternating patterns in animals, such as stripes, appear when an activating molecule increases the production of an inhibitory molecule and the two molecules fuse together in a tissue. In this case, Wnt is an activator and Dkk4 is an inhibitor. Related articles: Why do cats meow? Dancing cats; Getting to know cats’ body language Do cats really love us? In line with Turing’s hypothesis, Barsch’s group thinks that Dkk4 is released into the tissue faster than Wnt signaling, resulting in an uneven distribution of alternating patches of dark and light colors in cats.

In addition, the cat’s Taqpep genotype (ie, whether it carries the banded or looped version of the gene) also determines where the Dkk4 gene can be activated. The Taqpep gene encodes a protease, which is an enzyme that breaks down other proteins; But currently, researchers do not know whether this enzyme directly or indirectly affects the activity of Dkk4. In the continuation of their analysis, the researchers checked the genome sequence of cats from a database called 99 Lives collection.

They found that Abyssinian and Singaporean breeds, which have no stripes or spots and have a uniform appearance, have mutated versions of Dkk4 that disable the gene. In future work, the researchers plan to see if similar mutations exist in wild cats. . Previous studies have shown that, at least in cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus), a cat’s Taqpep genotype affects the appearance of its spots, and scientists say the same may be true of Dkk4.

The black spots are coarse; But sometimes instead it creates a cover of small and close spots. Could the Dkk4 mutation explain this variation? Barash said: Our observations so far are only on domestic cats. It is likely that the molecules and mechanisms studied in domestic cats are also present in all over 30 wild cat species; But to be sure of this, we need to conduct additional studies on the DNA of wild cats.

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Also, the researchers plan to investigate whether the same mechanisms exist in more distant mammals such as zebras or giraffes. How cats acquire their coat patterns has been a decades-old mystery in the biological sciences, Dr. Gregory Barsh, senior author of the paper and a geneticist at the Hudson Alpha Institute of Biotechnology in Alabama, wrote in an email to LiveScience.

About 70 years ago, scientists began to theorize why and how organisms acquire periodic patterns, such as the stripes on a zebra’s coat or the jelly patches on the body of a cocoon worm. In some animals, such as the zebrafish, these patterns are due to the arrangement Different types of cells appear; But in mammals, skin and hair cells are exactly the same throughout the body, and the color pattern is caused by differences in genetic activity between, for example, the cells under the dark band and the cells under the light band.

Therefore, the question of where the stripes on a cat’s coat come from depends on how and when different genes are activated in their cells and how these genes affect the animal’s development. In short, it’s complicated. Now, in a new study published September 7 in the journal Nature Communications, Barash and his colleagues identified several genes that work together to determine the coat pattern of cats.

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