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Why tabby cats get their stripes, revealed in new study


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As popular as tabbies are (think Garfield the cat), scientists know little about how they get this distinctive appearance.

In a study published this week in Nature Communications, scientists report that the genes that set up the tabby pattern are activated in an embryo’s skin cells before the cat’s fur develops. The early skin cells even mimic tabby stripes under the microscope, a discovery never seen before in embryonic cells.

This unique genetic process may be the same mechanism that creates stripes and spots in wild felines, the authors theorize. The stripes themselves likely originate from the domestic cat’s direct ancestor, the striped Near Eastern wildcat.


“There [is] the satisfaction of understanding something a little bit more about the world,” says study leader Greg Barsh, an investigator at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology

The discovery is amazing in another way too, he says: “Biology uses the same sets of tools over and over again, so it's very rare to find something that does not apply more broadly to lots of other situations. This is likely to be the case in this situation as well.”

Source: National Geographic

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