New Study Reveals How Tuxedo Cats Get Their Tuxedos

Scientists were way off
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 6, 2016 6:45 PM CST
New Study Reveals How Tuxedo Cats Get Their Tuxedos
A new study reveals how and why piebald animals, like these tuxedo cats, get their distinctive white patches.   (AP Photo/Alley Cat Allies,Jason Putsche)

Researchers now know why and how tuxedo cats wear a tuxedo—and it's not for formal galas (cats hate those). The Guardian reports scientists had already figured out that piebald animals get their distinctive white patches because of a mutated gene. But they were way off in their theory of how that mutation produced white bellies and heads. According to the Telegraph, the long-running theory was that the mutation caused pigment cells to move too slowly to completely cover the developing animal. But new research shows the genetic mutation actually causes pigment cells to move faster. The problem is that it also causes them to divide slowly, meaning there aren't enough of them to cover the whole animal.

This leads to the second busted hypothesis about piebald animals. Gizmodo reports scientists assumed something in the DNA was controlling pigment cells and telling them where to go. In reality, "the pigment just goes wherever." “There’s a randomness in the way the cells behave, which means that the white patch you get is never the same, even in genetically identical individuals,” researcher Ian Jackson tells the Telegraph. Jackson's study was published Wednesday in Nature Communications. While it's fun to know tuxedo cats' tuxedos are like snowflakes, the study actually has a practical application. According to the Guardian, a mathematical model developed by researchers could help scientists understand a related genetic mutation that can cause everything from deafness to cancer in humans. (In Finland, reindeer glow in the dark.)

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