Whimsical leopard spots, elegant tiger stripes or funny patterns on your pet cat's fur are all very delicate work of nature. Scientists have finally been able to find out which gene is behind these "arts".
After birth, the entire feline family receives a pattern that does not change throughout the life of the animal.
The evolution and process behind the patterns of wild and domestic cats have long fascinated scientists, including new research author Professor Gregory Barsh. A scientist from the United States wanted to understand at what point unique animal patterns begin to develop for the first time. He found that this happens while the embryo is still developing in the womb.
Previous research has shown that feline patterns appear during hair growth, when hair follicles produce different pigments. However, the process that determines whether a hair follicle produces black or yellow melanin remained unknown.
Analysis of skin samples from feline embryos at different stages of development has helped experts understand the genetics behind this process. The team discovered a molecule encoded by the DKK4 gene. It was she who was responsible for the fact that thick and thin areas alternated in the upper layer of the embryonic skin, which corresponded to hair follicles that produce various types of melanin. Of course, each individual has a different DKK4 gene expression, so cats are born with unique patterns and fur color.
“The biology behind the color pattern of mammals has long been a mystery. Now, we have received a new clue,”the scientists summarize.