Polydactyly & Syndactyly, Curious Congenital Anomalies Found in Humans and Cats
There have always been strange human anomalies, mainly genetic, that pop up all around the world. Some examples might include conjoined twins, very tall people, or very small people. But the ones that have always fascinated me were Polydactyly and Syndactyly. These are both congenital defects that affect the fingers and toes of humans; in other words, people who are born with extra fingers and/or toes. It has been known to occur in the animal kingdom, as well. Polydactyly affects the fingers and toes, and Syndactyly causes the fusing or webbing of the digits.
I first started to take notice of this anomaly when I was reading a novel about Anne Boleyn. Evidently she had Polydactyly. It is believed that she had one extra digit on her right hand. Some say that after she had been beheaded, the executioner reached down, secretly chopped of her hand, and put it inside his clothing. After she had been taken away for burial, the hand was hidden and thereafter used for magical purposes. Unfortunately, both of these stories probably come from myths and legends down the ages. In 1876, after an exhumation of Anne Boleyn, they discovered that in fact her whole body was perfectly shaped, and her hands were devoid of any extra digits. She was 5' 3'' tall and very delicately built.
Polydactyly still in the news
The most common extra finger is on the side of the hand next to the ulnar, or little finger. it is not actually always a real looking finger. Sometimes it is just a small, thin piece of skin tissue, with a fingernail attached. But it has been known to be fully functional, and not only that, it may just be one of several extra fingers. Some of these fingers can be fused all the way up the side of the other nearest finger, or just partially fused.
On March 24, 2010, Fox News reported that a 6-year-old boy from China was born with 5 extra fingers and 6 extra toes—all together he had 31 fingers and toes. The unnamed child had an operation to remove the extra digits.
Polydactyly is caused by errors in fetal development. Syndactyly when you get webbed feet or hands, is caused by the fact that, when the baby is in the womb, the skin between toes and fingers that cause it to look webbed, should die away and form perfect toes and fingers, but for some reason this does not happen. It is not a problem and just normally runs in families. I have a couple of webbed toes, and so did my mother. Most of these traits are isolated and caused by an autosomal gene. This means it is not sex-linked i.e. male or female. So either your mother or father could carry it, and if, like me, my mother had webbed feet, then of course so did I. I like to be different!
Multi Symptom disease
Sometimes the cause can be a bit more complicated. They can be just one of the abnormalities which occur when a baby is born with other more serious defects. Either mental or physical. Either caused in the womb, medicines that have been taken when pregnant, or toxins in the environment.
The more serious causes of Polydactyly, can be caused by the following diseases.
1. Ellis-van Creveld syndrome also known as Chondroectodermal dysplasia. This is an inherited condition caused by defects in two genes known as EVC and EVC2. The strange thing about this is that it is mainly seen within the Old order Amish population of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
1. Rubinstein-Taybi syndrome. This is a rare condition resulting in a defect of a gene that leads to a protein called a CREB binding protein going wrong. This is known as CREBBP. Some people with this condition are actually born without this gene. Anybody born with this condition suffer with the following symptoms.
- Broad thumbs and toes
- short in stature
- distinctive facial features
- mental problems
Trisomy 13, is another factor that can cause Polydactyly. It is when a persons body has three copies of a genetic material instead of the usual two, from chromosome 13. This is not an inherited disease it is usually caused by something happening in the womb. The DNA from chromosome 13 appears in other parts of the body. This causes the extra material to interfere with normal development.
Syndactyly or webbing of the feet or fingers
Syndactyly is usually just called webbing of the toes, where the skin is further up the toes joining one or more together. It can vary from a small amount of skin, or can be fused all the way to the top. It is usually inherited, but can be caused by other factors. Sometimes it will be fused by not only the skin, but also by bone. It can be a side effect of Cardiac problems when the child is born. But it is mainly just inherited from your parents, in exactly the same way as Polydactyly.
Polydactyly and Syndactyly cats.
For some strange reason, both of these syndromes have been found in cats. The greatest number of toes on a cat has been 32! this was reported in 1974.
The male cat called 'Mickey Mouse' owned by a Mrs Renee Delgade of Westlake Village, California, was believed to have had something called double paws, where each paw is two, fused mirror image paws.
Obviously, a Polydactyly cat has many paws, and a Syndactyly cat has less paws, as his paws are fused together. Now I bet you never knew that! I know I didn't! Evidently there is a breed of cat called a Maine cat that is bred to carry on having Polydactyly cats!
Famous People with Polydactyly
Gemma Aterton who plays agent Fields in the James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace, said ' It's my little oddity, people are really interested, but repulsed at the same time, but I am proud of it'.
She goes on to say, 'My dad had them, and my grandad, I feel we are one step ahead, a sign of things to come' She joked, 'We could do more stuff if we had extra fingers, faster texting, faster e-mailing, and better guitar playing'. She also added that she had been born with a number of deformities, including a crumpled ear.
Antonio is a Major League Baseball relief pitcher, who plays for the Lancaster Barnstormers of the Atlantic league of Professional baseball. He also pitched in Major League Baseball for the Philadelephia phillies. he has an extra digit on each hand and foot.
Ashton Kutcher showing off his famous syndactyly toes
I couldn't leave this topic without mentioning the most well-known Polydactyly. For many years people believed that Marilyn was a Polydactyly, with six toes on one of her feet. However, it is now thought that this was just a myth, caused by a photo taken by Joseph Jasgur in March 1946. The photo appears to reveal an extra toe, but it is now believed to be only a trick of the light. As there has been no evidence to the contrary, Marilyn's extra toe has gone into myth and legend.
Marilyn's "extra" toe (it's only a trick of the light).
Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polydactyly
MedlinePlus - https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003176.htm
The Tech Museum - http://genetics.thetech.org/ask-a-geneticist/polydactyly
Questions & Answers
© 2010 Nell Rose