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The feline genome reveals exclusive genes and mutations in the domestic cat

The feline genome reveals exclusive genes and mutations in the domestic cat

According to a study led by American scientists involving researchers from the Institute of Evolutionary Biology, and published in the journal PNAS on 10 November. During the evolution, domesticated cats have become docile and timid but have a good memory and good night vision and hearing.



The first archaeological evidence of human coexistence with cats was found in Cyprus. Like dogs, cats were domesticated about 10,000 years ago, at the same time as the Neolithic period and the development of agriculture. The first cat for which the genome was sequenced was an Abyssinian cat named Cinnamon which belonged to a pedigree of laboratory cats - a mammal that shares a significant variety of diseases with humans.

gats The project, led by American scientists and with the participation of the Comparative Genomics Laboratory coordinated by Tomas Marquès-Bonet at the Institute of Evolutionary Biology, the ICREA researcher at the Department of Experimental and Health Sciences (CEXS) at UPF, has shown that the comparative study of the genome of the domestic cat (Felis silvestris catus) involving around 20,000 genes, has enabled observation of the differences in biological, evolutionary and behavioural terms compared to the genomes of other organisms such as the wild cat, tiger, dog, cow and human. The conclusions of this study were published on 10 November in the journal PNAS and identified 281 genes with exclusive mutations in the domestic cat.

The wild cats of the Palaeolithic era evolved into to modern domesticated cats as a result of genetic changes that made them more docile in order to obtain food, and gave them a good memory and made them more skittish, although the precise reason for this latter characteristic is unknown.

These are some of the findings of the comparative analysis performed in the paper on domesticated cats, published in the journal PNAS which "have selected a collection of genes that are related to reward mechanisms," says Marquès-Bonet, the co-author of the study. And he added: "this is because cats have learned to do what they are told in exchange for food". Although the scientists did not find a good explanation of why they are more antisocial, "this could be due to prudence or perhaps by chance," explains Marquès-Bonet.

Cats are territorial animals and good hunters in the dark

In its genome, the researchers were also able to find evidence of the good memory of domesticated cats and their excellent hearing and vision. This is consistent with cats being territorial animals which have to recognize vast areas of land where, in addition, to surviving, they have to surprise their prey - hence the benefits of taking them by surprise, even in the dark.

The study of the rapid devolution experienced by domesticated animals such as cats and dogs can be used for selecting the genes responsible for those changes, while inferring which traits they are involved in. It helps to "interpret genomes," according to Marquès-Bonet , and this also helps to "better understand the human genome," said the IEB researcher.

For further reference, see:

Michael J. Montague, et al., (2014), " Comparative analysis of the domestic cat genome reveals genetic signatures underlying feline biology and domestication", PNAS, 10 November.