A team of British researchers has now explained how zebrafish develops the distinctive striped patterns on its skin.
Dr Thomas Woolley from Cardiff University in UK has simulated chase after each in the early developmental stages before resting to create a final pattern.
He discovered that the angles at which the cells chase after each other determine whether a zebrafish develops its distinctive stripes, broken stripes, polka-dot patterns or sometimes no pattern at all.
Rather than having a pattern ingrained in their genetic code, zebrafish start their lives as transparent embryos before developing iconic patterns over time as they grow into adults – many possible mutations.
Several researchers have studied how and why these pattern form and have concluded that it’s a result of three types of pigment cells interacting with one other.
More specifically, black pigment cells (melanophores), yellow pigment cells (xanthophores) and silvery pigment cells (iridophores) chase after each other until a final pattern is reached.
As hundreds of these chases play out, the yellow cells eventually push the black cells into a position to form a distinct pattern.
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.”
Dr Woolley performed a number of computer simulations that took a broad view of how cells move and interact when the zebrafish is just a few weeks old.
By experimenting with different chasing angles in his simulations, Dr Woolley was able to successfully recreate the different patterns that are exhibited by zebrafish.
The findings have been presented in the journal Physical Review E.