Genetic Makeup of Calico Cat Fur May Help To Save Human Lives
The temperamental behavior of calico cats has been greatly maligned and misunderstood. These felines are thought to be feisty, stubborn, willful and even arrogant. Some folks in fact, refer to these beautiful cats wearing their striking coat color (albeit often affectionately) as having “cattitude”.
Since the calico pattern doesn’t represent a particular breed of cat, but rather only the cat’s color, the calico cat’s disposition is strictly influenced by its inherited genes and environment. Therefore the calico cat’s behavior largely depends on its pedigree, or how the kitty has been handled since birth.
The calico cat pattern is seen among others, in the Japanese Bobtail, the Persian, Rex, American Shorthair, British Shorthair, Maine Coons, Manx, Exotic Shorthair, and even the “hairless” Sphynx. Each of these breeds is known to have special behavioral characteristics, many of them which are especially appealing to certain cat lovers. However, breeders and guardians of calico and tortoiseshell kitties continue to maintain that the behavior of these cats differ from any other colors or breeds.
Because some coat colors in cats is linked to the X chromosome, the majority of calico cats are female. Occasionally a male kitten is born wearing this color pattern. A prevailing myth that continues to abound is that male calico cats are extremely valuable, but due to the genetics involved male calico cats are almost always sterile.
Although these stunningly beautiful kitties are certainly eye-candy for cat lovers, NBC News is reporting on some exciting and promising research about the genetic anomaly connected with gender in calico cats. This research may help scientists better understand DNA and calico cats may help researchers understand the so-called flipping the “off switch” in genes.
According to a team of researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, (SCSF) the unique orange-white-black coloring on these cats is caused by the inactivation or “silencing” of one of their two X chromosomes. The cells in female animals have two copies of the X chromosome which is inherited; one from the mother and one from the father.
Since scientists don’t fully understand exactly how a cell turns off a chromosome, they are trying to learn more about the way in which different types of genes can be “switched” on and off without impacting the underlying sequence of DNA.
According to Scitable,
“In cats, the fur pigmentation gene is X-linked and depending on which copy of the X chromosome each cell chooses to leave active, a black or orange coat color results. X inactivation only occurs in cells with multiple X chromosomes, which explains why almost all calico cats are female.”
In order to visualize the DNA, scientists used soft x-ray tomography and were able to identify one specific chromosome; the inactive X chromosome in female cells. This research may lead to greater understanding, diagnosis and treatment in humans of X-chromosome related diseases.
Explaining some of the research implications, Elizabeth Smith, a postdoctoral fellow in the Anatomy department at SCSF said,
“Uncovering how only one X chromosome is inactivated will help explain the whole process of ‘epigenetic control,’ meaning the way changes in gene activity can be inherited without changing the DNA code. It can help answer other questions, such as if, and how traits like obesity can be passed down through generations.”
While this seems to be promising news, since the study’s findings were presented at a medical meeting,until a peer-reviewed journal publishes its findings, the data and conclusions should only be considered preliminary.
So calico kitty guardians, please pay attention! There is no further need to complain about your cat shedding all over everything. Based on the vital information their precious fur may uncover, it’s possible that in the near future it will save the lives of many humans.
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- Photo credit: Flickr User: Archangeli
- Sources: Scitable, nature.com/scitable
- USNews nbcnews.com/news/us-news