Show Details

Deaf Cats

June 3, 2008

A listener asks: why are so many white cats deaf?

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):
The link between hearing and color. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

White cats may be eye-catching, but their beauty often comes at a price. Listener Jennifer of Bangor, Maine wrote to ask why so many albino cats are deaf. We consulted feline geneticist Leslie Lyons of the University of California at Davis. She explains that pigment cells called melanocytes are necessary for both a cat’s coloration and its hearing. A gene mutation called dominant white prevents the melanocytes from migrating to the skin and the inner ear during embryonic development.

LESLIE LYONS (University of California, Davis):
So dominant white cats // tend to have a higher problem with deafness.

HIRSHON:
But she says these white cats aren’t true albinos. Albinism is actually the result of a rare mutation in the gene that controls pigment production within the melanocytes themselves, and is unrelated to deafness. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the science society.