A bird's inner stripes

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Science  21 Sep 2018:
Vol. 361, Issue 6408, pp. 1202-1203
DOI: 10.1126/science.aau5103

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How do the periodic patterns of colored stripes that decorate so many birds and mammals form? These patterns are the object of aesthetic fascination and the focus of endless debate about the mechanisms that generate them or diversify them. Theoreticians show that the most complex of regular patterns can be reproduced in silico using Turing-like reaction-diffusion mechanisms, whereby the concentrations and diffusing properties of an activator and an inhibitor regulate their interactions and thus determine the final periodic pattern (1). By contrast, experimental data indicate that self-organizing processes relying on interactions between skin cells establish striped patterns (2, 3). On page 1216 of this issue, Haupaix et al. (4) address this question from a different perspective, by examining the contribution of embryonic structures that could act as instructive, spatial landmarks to guide the formation of alternating yellow and black stripes on the back of chicks of quails, pheasants, partridges, and their relatives (galliform birds). They show that an early developmental signal from under the skin dictates the position of stripes and therefore periodic patterns. This provides a new framework within which to understand the rich diversity of verterbrate coat decoration.