Register for an account


Enter your name and email address below.

Your email address is used to log in and will not be shared or sold. Read our privacy policy.


Website access code

Enter your access code into the form field below.

If you are a Zinio, Nook, Kindle, Apple, or Google Play subscriber, you can enter your website access code to gain subscriber access. Your website access code is located in the upper right corner of the Table of Contents page of your digital edition.

Planet Earth

67. Tiger Stripes, Explained

The proteins behind fur patterns are identified.

By Emma BryceJanuary 24, 2013 2:00 PM
Rat007 / Shutterstock


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

Cell biologists have finally proved a 60-year-old theory about how certain animals get their stripes and blotches.

The famously prolific mathematician Alan Turing had hypothesized that such biological patterns arise when a pair of chemicals react in a regular, alternating manner as they move through tissue during development. In February Jeremy Green and his team at King’s College London identified a pair of proteins called morphogens that shape the ridges on a mouse’s palate. These morphogens, named fibroblast growth factor and sonic hedgehog, form an “activator” and “inhibitor” pair that together differentiate cells into ridges and troughs. The researchers believe that the same alternating chemical process stimulates skin cells to generate patches of differently colored fur.

“Turing was one of the first people to have the boldness to deal with biology in a mathematical framework,” Green says. “He was way ahead of his time.” Besides explaining how the tiger got its stripes, the results may provide new perspective on morphogen misregulation, which plays a major role in cancer.

3 Free Articles Left

Want it all? Get unlimited access when you subscribe.


Already a subscriber? Register or Log In

Want unlimited access?

Subscribe today and save 70%


Already a subscriber? Register or Log In