Bites at Animal Planet

11 Mar

Calico Cats Help Scientists Understand the Genetics of Obesity

Credit: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

In scientific research, the greatest inspiration can come from the most unexpected sources. Last month at the Biophysical Society Meeting in San Francisco, scientists revealed that the secret to understanding the genetics behind obesity and breast cancer may be found in the colorful coats of calico cats.

In female calicos (which nearly all calicos are) one X chromosome has an orange fur gene while the other X chromosome has a black fur gene. In a spectacular genetic feat, the chromosomes are turned off and on at random, resulting in the calico’s distinctive splotchy coat.

The process of a cell preventing the expression of a certain gene is called “gene silencing” and researchers at the University of California, San Francisco think that calico cats may be the key to unlocking the mystery of this phenomenon. According to The Huffington Post, these scientists hope that gene silencing research could someday be used to help understand and control genetic tendencies. Although the research is in its infancy, “silencing” the genes that express obesity and other diseases associated with the X chromosome, like breast cancer, may be a reality in the future.

Next time you see a calico cat, think of the amazing genetics that make their unique coat possible!

Want to see some more amazing cats? Check out the AP L!VE Kitten Cam!

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