Cat owners, call Professor X and ask him to let your feline friend join the X-Men because a recent study shows that some tabby cats are mutants.

Dr. Stephen O'Brien, a geneticist at the St. Petersburg University of Russia, has discovered a new gene in felines called Taqpep as well as another gene that they have dubbed EdN3, which controls the hair color in a cat's coat pattern. The Taqpep gene is common to both wild cheetahs and domesticated felines but is a mutation of a gene that produces the cheetah's spots and a tabby's stripes.

Taqpep's mutation is responsible for a blotchy stripe pattern in both domesticated cats and a rare breed of big cat called the King Cheetah, who are often found in South Africa. As for their house cat cousins, more tabbies in Europe have the mutation, while felines in the US are striped.

In order to study regular cats and their wild cousins, the researchers used DNA and tissue samples from feral cats in Northern California. They also took a tiny amount of skin and blood samples from captive and wild cheetahs in South Africa.

Dr. O'Brien's work is not done yet, however. He says that he and his team still have to look at gene samples from both wild and domesticated felines in order to properly figure out the pathways involved in both pattern formation and pigmentation on the animals' fur. Now if they can only find a permanent cure for shedding.

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