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Zebras and tigers oh my!

How did the zebra get its stripes?  How did the tiger get its stripes? These are age-old questions in natural history. Convincing arguments have variously put forward suggesting camouflage, to visually confuse and thus deter annoying biting insects, and a complex scenario to create cooling air movements directly around the animal. This latter scenario works on the principle of air convection, because dark stripes will be warmer than light stripes, so air over the stripes will be a

Well, zebras and tigers can be difficult to study, so an ingenious team at Harvard University, led by Dr. Hopi Hoekstra, worked with striped African mice and striped American chipmunks and determined that they both use the same gene to control development of alternating pale and dark stripes in their coats. Those two species are not closely related, suggesting that this gene may be present (but perhaps non-functioning) across all mammals. Another team noted that this gene also is related to coloration in fruit flies, suggesting perhaps an even broader role across animals. So, on your next visit to the Zoo, regard the striped animals carefully, and try to conjure your inner tiger (i.e., activate that gene within yourself) and go home striped!

Publication: Mallarino R, Henegar C, Mirasierra M, Manceau MC, Shradin C, Vallejo M, Beronja S, Barsh GS, Hoekstra HE. 2016. The developmental mechanisms of stripe formation in rodents. Nature: doi:10.1038/nature20109 

Read more about the research of Dr. Hoekstra’s amazing work here: http://hoekstra.oeb.harvard.edu/home

Joe Mendelson, PhD

Director of Research

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl