That cats are striped because their hair follicles produce different types of melanin pigment has been known before. However, the genetic mechanism of this phenomenon has become clear only now, after the discovery made by the staff of Stanford University and the HudsonAlpha Institute of Biotechnology in Huntsville, Alabama, reports NewScientist.
It is curious that the theoretically new work is based on the discoveries of the famous English mathematician and cryptologist Alan Turing, who was engaged not only in breaking codes. In 1952, Turing published an article "The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis", where he described the process of reactionary diffusion, in which two substances, one of which stimulates the activity of genes, and the other suppresses it, can lead to regular alternating patterns.
Studying feline embryos at different stages of development, obtained as a result of neutering wild cats, American scientists found that thick and thin areas alternated in the upper layer of embryonic skin. They corresponded to hair follicles producing different types of melanin and appearing at a later stage in the development of the embryo. After analyzing the expression of genes of individual cells of the skin of the fetal cat, the researchers determined that the only molecule that stood out from the rest was the Dkk4 gene: its amount differed in thick and thin areas of tissue. It is because of embryonic differences in the expression of the DKK4 gene that cats were born with different patterns and fur colors. The same can apply to other mammals with patterned fur - tigers, cheetahs, etc.
This discovery means that it is theoretically possible to use the DKK4 gene to create cats with specific skin patterns. However, the authors of the discovery consider this unacceptable, since there are already too many cats in the world. "We would not be too happy to promote a mechanism that allows humans to create designer cats if it comes at the expense of animal health", - said the authors of the study, published in the journal Nature Communications.