A tabby cat named Larry looks out a window at number 10 Downing Street in London (Photo : Reuters)
Scientists have pinpointed the gene that gives tabby cats their stripes, a development that may allow researchers to make strides forward in our understanding of human diseases and genetics.
Known as Taqpep, the gene determines whether the tabby cat assumes the "classic" blotched pigmentation, or a striped pattern, a mutation that can also be found in cheetahs. The presence of this gene in "King" cheetahs indicates that there have been several gene mutations throughout the cat's history.
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Greg Barsh, scientist at the Hudson Alpha Institute of Biotechnology, explained that the blotches are called classic because "cat lovers really like the blotched pattern."
Stephen O'Brien, scientist at the National Laboratory for Cancer Research and contributor to the study, noted that the pattern alters its arrangement when Taqpep changes the deposition of pigment in the tabby. When the gene is inactive, the blotchy pattern takes precedence, but striped cats with a "mackerel" pattern display a working version of Taqpep. Blotched patterns are more prevalent in Europe than America. While Taqpep isn't the only gene to have input on the tabby's pattern, it is the first one to be discovered by scientists.
"What this is, is the first connection of a gene involved in pattern formation in cats to their molecular status," said O'Brien.
The study was originally published in the scientific journal Nature, and includes research from scientists of the National Cancer Institute. The team previously worked on completing the domestic cat genome, which was finished in 2007.