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Piebald cats may hold heart clue

Thursday January 7th 2016

Black-and-white cats could help scientists unearth the reasons why people are born with holes in their heart. Experts at Edinburgh and Bath Universities have discovered that cats' piebald colour is decided before they are even born.

Such two-tone fur occurs when pigment cells do not carry out instructions in the womb. Researchers hope the study will help scientists better understand holes in people's hearts and other medical conditions caused by glitches in womb cell movement.

Patches on cats and horses happen when there are insufficient numbers of pigment cells and the animals end up with a white stomach, say scientists.

The patches happen while the embryo develops, with pigment cells travelling and growing in a haphazard fashion, much to the surprise of scientists.

This is due to a lack of communication between cells, which are usually steered in the same direction. Richard Mort, from Edinburgh University, says it is established fact that cells travel through the growing skin to form pigment.

Dr Mort says that they used a special mathematical model to demonstrate that this process is behind piebald patterns. Nature Communications journal has printed the report.

Copyright Press Association 2016