Calico cats may help scientists understand human genetics - 8 News NOW

Calico cats may help scientists understand human genetics

Updated: Feb 18, 2014 02:49 PM
© iStockphoto / Thinkstock © iStockphoto / Thinkstock

Cat lovers have long known that the distinctive three-toned calico patterning is almost exclusively found in female felines.

Now, the genetics behind that anomaly may help scientists understand human DNA a little better, too.

That's because calico cats may help explain so-called gene silencing -- flipping the "off switch" on genes, researchers say.

A team at the University of California, San Francisco say the unique orange-white-and-black patchwork fur on these cats is due to the silencing or inactivation of one of their two X chromosomes.

As the researchers explained, cells in female mammals have two copies of the X chromosome -- one from the mother and one from the father. Cells require only one active X chromosome, so the second one is turned off.

Calico cats have an orange-fur-color gene on one of their X chromosomes and a black-fur gene on the other. According to the UCSF team, the random silencing of one of the X chromosomes in each cell results in the calico cats' unique patchwork coat.

Scientists don't know exactly how a cell turns off a chromosome, so the researchers are trying to learn more about how different kinds of genes can be switched on or off without affecting the underlying DNA sequence.

This knowledge could lead to improved understanding, diagnosis and treatment of X-chromosome-related diseases in humans, said the researchers, who are scheduled to present their findings Tuesday at the Biophysical Society's annual meeting in San Francisco.

"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," Elizabeth Smith, a postdoctoral fellow in the anatomy department at UCSF, said in an American Institute of Physics news release.

"It can help answer other questions, such as if and how traits like obesity can be passed down through generations," she said.

Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about the X chromosome.

Copyright © 2014 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

  • Paula's Health NotesLas Vegas Health NewsMore>>

  • Prostate frozen lumpectomy offers patients an alternative

    Prostate frozen lumpectomy offers patients an alternative

    Tuesday, July 29 2014 3:39 PM EDT2014-07-29 19:39:02 GMT
    More than 230,000 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year according to the American cancer society. In most cases, surgical removal of the gland is considered the gold standard of treatment, but results of a new study suggest a new treatment might benefit some patients.More>>
    More than 230,000 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year according to the American cancer society. In most cases, surgical removal of the gland is considered the gold standard of treatment, but results of a new study suggest a new treatment might benefit some patients.More>>
  • New therapies for epilepsy

    New therapies for epilepsy

    Friday, July 25 2014 3:00 PM EDT2014-07-25 19:00:14 GMT
    pilepsy is a chronic neurological condition that affects more than 2.5 million Americans. Uncontrollable seizures plague these patients’ lives. Until now, the only treatments were drugs and major surgery, but new therapies are on the horizon.More>>
    pilepsy is a chronic neurological condition that affects more than 2.5 million Americans. Uncontrollable seizures plague these patients’ lives. Until now, the only treatments were drugs and major surgery, but new therapies are on the horizon.More>>
  • Study touts health care workers with less than bachelor's degree

    Study touts health care workers with less than bachelor's degree

    Thursday, July 24 2014 12:08 AM EDT2014-07-24 04:08:05 GMT
    Among Las Vegas workers with less than a bachelor’s degree only 3.5 percent hold jobs in the most common health care occupations, the lowest percentage among the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas, the Brookings Institution reported Wednesday night.More>>
    Among Las Vegas workers with less than a bachelor’s degree only 3.5 percent hold jobs in the most common health care occupations, the lowest percentage among the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas, the Brookings Institution reported Wednesday night.More>>
*DISCLAIMER*: The information contained in or provided through this site section is intended for general consumer understanding and education only and is not intended to be and is not a substitute for professional advice. Use of this site section and any information contained on or provided through this site section is at your own risk and any information contained on or provided through this site section is provided on an "as is" basis without any representations or warranties.
Powered by WorldNow
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 WorldNow and KLAS. All Rights Reserved.
For more information on this site, please read our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.