Cardiff study sheds light on zebrafish stripe mystery

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ZebrafishImage source, 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 source, 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."