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Scientists Prove How Tigers Got Their Stripes (VIDEO)

The Huffington Post   First Posted: 02/20/2012 9:14 pm Updated: 02/21/2012 8:42 am

Scientists in England have solved the age-old mystery of how tigers get their stripes.

To do it, the Telegraph reports, they turned to a theory postulated 60 years ago by legendary mathematician Alan Turing, who is considered the father of computer science.

Turing, who helped break the Nazi Enigma code, theorized that regular repeating patterns in biological systems, such as a leopard's spots or tiger's stripes, are generated by two types of morphogens that worked together, one as an "activator," and one as an "inhibitor."

Since morphogens decide how cells structure themselves in tissues, Turing surmised that the two types would work together to create patterns like stripes.

Turing never proved his theory, but researchers at King's College London put it to the test -- though they didn't use tigers, according to

Instead, the researchers examined the development of the regularly-spaced ridges found in the roofs of the mouths of mice.

Once the scientists identified the pair of morphogens involved, they discovered that by increasing or decreasing the activity of these morphogens, they could affect the pattern of the ridges in the mice palates in the ways Turing predicted.

"Regularly spaced structures, from vertebrae and hair follicles to the stripes on a tiger or zebrafish, are a fundamental motif in biology. There are several theories about how patterns in nature are formed, but until now there was only circumstantial evidence for Turing's mechanism," Dr. Jeremy Green told "Our study provides the first experimental identification of an activator-inhibitor system at work in the generation of stripes -- in this case, in the ridges of the mouth palate."

Although computer models have suggested that Turing's theory was correct, the King's College study is the first biological experiment proving it, reported.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that Alan Turing broke the Nazi Enigma code. The breakthrough of the Enigma code was made first in the Polish Cipher Bureau by Marian Rejewski (who also made replicas of the machine), not by Alan Turing. Turing was responsible later on using the principles to further crack the naval enigma and the design of the cryptanalytical Bombe machines.