Cats Remain Mysterious, But We Have Decoded Their Genes


Depending on your interest in science, the next sentence may or may not excite you, but take my word for it, it’s pretty cool: An international team of scientists has mapped the genome of the domestic cat.

That might sound like pure nerd gobbledygook, but as I say, it’s pretty cool, and it means a lot for humans and cats. By decoding the DNA of the cat, we can get insight into how to tackle diseases that affect felines and humans. The authors of the paper note in their preliminary abstract that cats have about 250 genetic diseases that are analogous to those in humans, including the cat version of HIV (feline immunodeficiency syndrome), feline leukemia, and cancer. In other words, humans are a lot closer to cats than even we at Catster had thought.

The project was completed by a team of 25 scientists on three continents. DNA was donated by three cats: Boris, from St. Petersburg, Russia; Cinnamon, from Columbia, Missouri; and Sylvester, a wildcat from Europe. Cinnamon was the first to be tested, in 2007, but the tech at the time allowed only about 60 percent of her genes to be sequenced. Scientists used modern tech and the DNA from the other two cats to fill in the gaps.

In io9, Annalee Newitz also points out that the new report lets us take a fresh look at some interesting evolutionary questions about our feline companions. Apparently, cats have stayed relatively still on the path of evolution. After they became cats, they basically stayed cats, making only mild alterations here and there over the centuries. To anyone who’s known a cat, this shouldn’t be too surprising. After all, why mess with perfection? In contrast, there’s a big evolutionary gap between modern dogs and their undomesticated cousins in the wild.

In any case, congrats to the scientists, and much thanks to Cinnamon, Boris, and Sylvester for their contributions to science.

Via io9 and GigaScience Journal

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