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Feline Fur Genetics

October 1, 2012

Scientists have discovered that mutations to a single gene in cats can turn stripes into blotches or even erase color patterns altogether.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Decoding cat coats…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

From zebra stripes to hyena spots, mammals come in a dazzling array of color patterns. Now, a group of scientists has uncovered some of the gene mutations behind this variety. Stanford geneticist Christopher Kaelin and his colleagues report in the journal Science that a gene called Taqpep is responsible for the stripes seen on domestic tabby cats. But a mutation to this gene converts those stripes into blotchy swirls. The researchers also discovered that a mutation to the same gene turns cheetah spots into stripes and blotches.

CHRIS KAELIN (Stanford University/Hudson Alpha Institute for Biotechnology):

A pattern variant called the king cheetah pattern looks remarkably similar to the blotched tabby pattern that we see in the domestic cat.

HIRSHON:

He says other mutations to the Taqpep gene may account for the lack of patterning on lions and cougars. He adds that humans also have the gene, but its function in us is unknown. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the science society.

Originally thought to be a different species, the king cheetah pattern, caused by a mutation to the Taqpep gene, is a rare recessive variant. (Chris Kaelin/Stanford University/Science Magazine)

A striped, or "mackerel" tabby cat displaying the ancestral tabby pattern. (Helmi Flick/Science)

A tabby cat with a mutation to the Taqpep gene, giving it a blotchy, swirled pattern (Helmi Flick/Science)