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Scientists Aim to Decode the Genetic Mystery of Lil BUB

The team raising money to sequence Lil BUB's DNA hopes it can help other cats -- and people.

JaneA Kelley  |  May 5th 2015


Who would have thought that Lil BUB’s legions of fans would include scientists at an organization world-famous for cutting-edge research in microbiology and genetics?

Not me — until a few days ago, when I read about the LilBUBome Project.

Daniel Ibrahim and Dario Garcia-Lupiañez, postdoctoral researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in Berlin; and Orsolya “Uschi” Symmons, a postdoctoral researcher at École Normale Supérieure de Lyon, have launched a crowdfunding project to have the world’s most magical cat’s DNA sequenced in hopes of discovering the genetic causes of her health issues and similar health problems faced by people.

They have the full blessing of BUB’s dude, who had his vet draw an extra vial of blood at her most recent checkup and send it to the Max Planck Institute.

Why all this interest in BUB? According to the researchers, “We love our work, but sometimes we hear that what we do is far removed from the ‘real world.’ This is one of the reasons why this project is so special to us: When we first learned about Lil BUB we saw this adorable little cat, and we also saw a connection to our research,” they wrote on their Experiment.com site.

“Apart from finding the mutation underlying Lil BUB’s condition, we would like to show that genetics is not crazy and complicated, but something that’s close to everyone and anyone who cares to get their head around it,” the researchers said.

I emailed BUB’s Dude, Mike Bridavsky, to ask him what he thinks of the LilBUBome Project. “This project could confirm what BUB’s specific bone condition is,” he told me. “Based on her X-rays alone, specialists have diagnosed her with osteopetrosis. However, with the disease being so rare, especially in cats, there is still the possibility that her bone malformations could be caused by a number of other rare bone conditions. And even if she does in fact have osteopetrosis, there are several different types, and this project could help us determine what specific type BUB was born with.”

Could this research help other cats or even people? Absolutely!

“What makes BUB so unique is that she has so many rare deformities at once. She has polydactyly (extra digits), dwarfism, osteopetrosis, and other physical mutations such as an underdeveloped jaw and no teeth. By processing and researching BUB’s DNA, we could potentially learn a great deal about how mutations work, how mutations affect other mutations, and why they happen, where they come from, and with this information we may eventually be able to figure out how to prevent them,” Bridavsky told me.

It seems like every day we hear about a new discovery that could help people and animals suffering from genetic diseases, and BUB could potentially make a huge contribution to the scientific community’s knowledge about hereditary illnesses.

One of Lil BUB’s abnormalities is a very short jaw with almost no teeth.

I asked Bridavsky why he chose to work with the researchers on the LilBUBome Project.

“Dario, Daniel, and Uschi, the scientists spearheading this project, are not only brilliant researchers, they are also huge animal lovers and big BUB fans,” he said. “They have a genuine desire to help others, and they also have a very obvious love for what they do. Part of what makes this project so exciting to me, and to them, is uncovering, or at least explaining, part of the mystery and magic that makes BUB who she is. She is really a one-of-a-kind living creature, and looking into her DNA could help explain what makes her so special.”

Good job, BUB. Good job, indeed!

Even though gene sequencing has gotten more affordable, it’s still expensive. The researchers are donating their time, but they still have to raise $6,500 in order to pay for the whole genome sequencing. That’s why they launched their crowdfunding effort, and that’s why they need us. They need to raise that $6,500 by May 24 or they won’t get a dime. As I write this, $1,711 has been pledged. (And yes, I made a pledge.)

To learn more about the LilBUBome Project, read the LilBUBome Blog and follow the team on Facebook and Twitter. You can also make a pledge and follow the project by visiting the LilBUBome Project page on Experiment.com. Also, if you’re as much of a cat genetics nerd as I am, check out the 99 Lives Cat Genome Sequencing Project, spearheaded by Professor Leslie Lyons at the University of Missouri.

Photos via Lil BUB’s Facebook page

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About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal rescue volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.