South East Wales

Cardiff study sheds light on zebrafish stripe mystery

Zebrafish Image copyright Getty Images

A mathematician has shed light on the mystery of how zebrafish develop their distinctive stripes.

Cardiff University's Thomas Woolley simulated how a zebrafish's skin cells "chase each other" before resting to form a pattern.

He found the angles of the chase determine whether the fish develops stripes, broken stripes, polka-dot patterns or no pattern.

The findings have been published in the journal Physical Review E.

Zebrafish begin their lives as transparent embryos, rather than having a pattern in their genetic code, and develop the markings as they become adults - with many possible mutations.

Image copyright Getty Images

Three pigment cells - black, yellow and silvery - interact with each other until the pattern is reached, with the yellow cells pushing the black ones into position.

Dr Woolley said: "Experimentalists have demonstrated that when these two types of cells are placed in a petri dish, they appear to chase after each other, a bit like pacman chasing the ghosts.

"However, rather than chase each other in straight lines, they appear to be chasing each other in a spiral.

"My new research has shown that the angle at which the cells chase after each other is crucial to determining the final pattern that we see on different types of zebrafish."

Related Topics

More on this story