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In a new study, researchers report that genes are stimulated in the skin cells of an embryo to create the tabby pattern before a cat’s fur develops.
According to a National Geographic report, the early skin cells even copy tabby strips under a microscope, a finding in embryonic cells that has never been seen before.
Of the nearly 60 million domestic cats in the United States, one of the most common types is the classic tabby, a coat of dots, swirls, and stripes and a letter “M” embossed on the cat’s forehead. .
As famous as tabby cats are, scientists don’t know much about how they get such a unique look.
The authors suggest that the characteristic genetic process may be similar to the mechanism that creates spots and stripes in wild cats.
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(Photo: Alvesgaspar on Wikimedia Commons)
New research has shown how tabby cats acquired their stripe trait and genetic process, which may be the same as the mechanism that produces spots and stripes in wild cats.
How tabby cats got their striped pattern
The term “tabby” is coined from “al-Attābiyya”, a neighborhood in Baghdad that produced a fine, striped silk taffeta in the 16th century.
Still, the stripes may have come from the domestic cat’s direct ancestor, the striped wildcat called the Near Eastern.
According to Greg Barsh, the lead investigator and researcher at the Hudson Alpha Institute for Biotechnology, a research facility in Huntsville, Alabama.
However, the discovery is astonishing in other ways as well; the study director stated that biology uses the same tools repeatedly; Hence, it is very unusual to discover something that is not more fully applicable to many other situations.
The genetics behind the patterns and colors of domestic cats have long fascinated scientists. For example, Charles Darwin suggested that most deaf cats were white in color and had blue eyes.
While in use, Barsh explained, species sometimes experienced insignificant changes, such as hair color, as they were associated with other, more helpful changes.
A surprising result
As part of their research, Developmental Genetics of Color Pattern Establish in Cats, published in Nature Communications, Barsh, along with his colleagues, collected nearly a thousand embryos that would otherwise have been rejected or discarded from veterans’ clinics that spray feral cats, many of whom are pregnant, when they were recorded.
When the team’s lead scientist, Kelly McGowan, examined the skin cells of embryos between 25 and 28 days old under a microscope, she found that the thicker areas of the skin were interspersed with thinner areas and developed a temporary pattern of color, that resembles that of an adult cat, tabby coloring. She was particularly shocked to find such a pattern so early in the development of an embryo, long before there were pigment and hair follicles, both of which are key to animal coloring.
To take a closer look, the team examined individual cells from embryos and discovered a pair of different types, each of which expressed different sets of genes.
Among these sets, the most diverse gene was the elaborately labeled “Dickkopf WNT Signaling Pathway Inhibitor” 4 or DKK4.
DKK 4 in embryos
When the researchers examined the way cells expressed DKK4 in embryos that were around 20 days old, they found that the cells involved were the ones that formed the thick skin pattern a few days later.
That DKK4, Barsh explained, is also a messenger protein known as secreted molecules that serves as an indicator for other cells in its environment and, vitally, says, “You are special,” the area where dark hair needs to grow.
If everything goes according to plan, cells with DKK4 eventually turned out to be dark markings that turn tabby cats into tabbies.
Mutations are common, however, resulting in different coat patterns and colors such as white spots or thinner stripes. Changes in pigmentation can also occur.
According to Verywell Health, pigmentation is the color of the skin created by a certain amount of melanin, a natural pigment that gives hair, eyes and skin their distinctive color.
This means, for example, that a completely black coat is created when pigment cells that should have caused the colors only produce dark pigment.
Production of cat color swatches
Barsh’s team now sees the creation of cat color swatches as a two-step process that first involves skin cells that determine whether tabby swatches will be light or dark. The second process then involves hair follicles growing and producing pigment.
The lead investigator said they might even come across results that appear to have nothing to do with fur patterns, like the invisible or invisible differences Darwin once envisioned.
Related information about tabby cats is shown in the following YouTube video from Animal Facts:
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