Coat Color Quirks: The Result Of Gene Mutations?

Why do some animals look like they’re wearing socks? Horses alone can have everything from a bit of white around their coronet band to white reaching well past their knees. This pigmentation of white areas can occur in horses, deer, pigs, guinea pigs, birds and humans, though it’s most prominent in cats.

Scientifically called “piebaldism,” it’s a mutation of the KIT gene, which causes an uneven distribution of the cells that pigment skin, eyes and hair or fur. Called melanocytes, in utero the cells are lumped together; as the animal grows, the cells spread out—sometimes uniformly, which leads to solid color animals, and sometimes irregularly, which leads to coat color changes.

Research using a mathematical model shows that the melanocytes in piebald animals don’t divide often enough, so there is not enough material to give the animal a monochrome hair coat. Another genetic quirk affecting coat color is the agouti gene, which creates bay horses: horses with brown bodies and black manes and tails.

Read more at Popular Science.

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