Gene gives mice and chipmunks their pinstripes | Science News

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Gene gives mice and chipmunks their pinstripes

Gene gives mice and chipmunks their pinstripes

Biologists identify new molecular pathway behind mammalian fur patterns

By
2:00pm, November 2, 2016
an african striped mouse

ARTIST IN RODENTS  African striped mice (one shown munching on a thorn tree) evolved a new trick for an old protein. The protein ALX3, which helps direct development of bones and cartilage in the face, also paints light stripes down the rodents’ backs, a new study suggests. Chipmunks independently evolved the same pinstriping method.

Chipmunks and other rodents’ light stripes are painted with a recycled brush, a new study suggests.

A protein previously known to guide facial development was repurposed at least twice during evolution to create light-colored stripes on rodents, researchers report November 2 in Nature. The protein, called ALX3, could be an important regulator of stripes in other mammals, including cats and raccoons, says Michael Levine, a developmental biologist at Princeton University who was not involved in the new study.

Some research has shown how butterflies and other insects create their often elaborate wing patterns (SN: 7/17/10, p. 28). But scientists still don’t understand the biological machinery used by mammals to generate the dots, spots, splotches and stripes that decorate their coats. Uncovering the

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