How the Tabby Cat Got Its Stripes

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Sept. 21 2012 4:53 PM

How the Tabby Cat Got Its Stripes

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A cat’s dress code, it seems, is its genetic code.

Scientists have solved an age-old mouser mystery—why there are stripes on a domestic tabby cat—and discovered yet another connection between Mittens and her wild cousins.

Studying the genomes of two groups of tabbies, one with the vertically striped mackerel coat and the other featuring the blotched pattern, researchers zeroed in on the Taqpep gene which, when mutated, can cause  tabby stripes to change from mackerel to blotched. This is the same gene already known to give cheetahs either spots or, in the case of the king cheetah, spots and stripes.

And this gene may mean more to cats than just a spiffy coat. It’s similar to molecules associated with immune functions. In fact, fancy fur may simply be a side effect of feline immune system evolution.

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Next discovery, please? The hairball gene.