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How did tabby cats get their stripes?

Sep 9, 2021

It's all in their genes!

Have you ever wondered why tigers have stripes? Or how cheetahs and leopards got their spots?

Well now you don't have to because a team of scientists in the US are working on just that.

Scientists at HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology in Alabama studied the skin of cats before they were born.

They discovered that the reason why cats have different patterns and colours is because of a specific gene called DKK4. By studying the skin the scientists noticed it was divided into alternating thick and thin regions, which they later discovered matched patterns of hair follicles that produce different colours of fur on a tabby cat.

Then they needed to work out what was responsible for making the thick and thin regions in the first place.

So they studied tabby cats' genes and found that the thick and thin skin was caused by a specific gene called Dickkopf, or DKK4. The way this gene acts for each cat is what gives them their individual and distinct markings - it dictates the different shapes on each cat's fur.

It's big news because it means scientists can now learn more about how other animals like tigers, giraffes and zebras got their markings.

"We think this is really the first glimpse into what the molecules (involved in pattern development) might be," Dr. Gregory S. Barsh, one of the report's authors, told The New York Times.

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