A king cheetah. (Photo : Wikimedia Commons)
Ever wonder why your tabby cat has those stripes? Or why a cheetah has those stripes? Well here's an interesting fact: the same genes responsible for the stripes on a tabby cat is also responsible for the beautiful spots on a cheetah.
Scientists recently analyzed data from the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology in Alabama, and the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research and realized that there are similar gene expressions taking place between the two felines. The culprit? The Taqpep gene.
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"Nobody had any idea what the genes were that were involved in these things," said Stephen O'Brien, one of the researchers who led the study. "When the feline genome became available, we began to look for them."
A certain type of cheetah known as the king cheetah, commonly found in South Africa, has more distinctive stripes, and is more akin (at least visually) to tabby cats found in Europe.
These blotches, on the tabby cat, are often preferred by cat owners. While they may make a cheetah stick out in the wild, humans tend to migrate toward these cats with the taqpep mutation, prompting the study.
But aesthetics aren't all that the genes dictate.
"Many of the genes involved in coat color sit on the surface of cells," O'Brien said. "Viruses are always looking for things to jump on that can allow them to stick and then invade a cell."
In essence, O'Brien is implying that the fur expression of cats could play a role in fighting disease. As website GPBNews puts it, it could even lead to further explanation of humans and infectious diseases.
The researchers also studied a series of samples belonging to feral cats in Northern California. But don't think there work is done. As feline geneticist Leslie Lyons said:
"The cat has not revealed all its mysteries yet."