The lost story of cat domestication can finally be told: ScienceAlert

The history of cat domestication stretches back nearly 10,000 years, according to evidence from a new genetic study, and the human-feline bond was most likely sparked by a change in the lifestyles of our ancestors.

An international team of researchers examined the genotypes of more than 1,000 cats randomly bred from Europe, Asia and Africa, focusing on nearly 200 genetic markers linking regions and breeds .

“One of the main DNA markers we studied was microsatellites, which mutate very rapidly and give us clues about recent cat populations and how breeds have evolved over the past few hundred years,” says feline geneticist Leslie Lyons from the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine.

“Another key DNA marker we looked at was single nucleotide polymorphisms, which are single-base changes throughout the genome that give us clues to their ancient history many thousands of years ago. years.”

The team was able to trace the first signs of domestication to the Fertile Crescent region, those parts of the Middle East along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. This so-called “cradle of civilization” has previously been identified as the place where the history of the domestic cat began.

Like the current Holocene geological epoch started, human beings traded the way of life of the itinerant hunter-gatherers for something more sedentary, by cultivating in a specific place. Rodent control provided by cats would have aided in these new roles, prompting communities to actively encourage their presence.

This assumption now has even more supporting evidence. Based on these genetic comparisons, it also seems likely that these domesticated cats spread around the world with humans – in other words, they weren’t domesticated separately in other places at the same time.

Thousands of years later, the genes of cats around the world now show signs of “isolation by distance”, researchers say, where genetic similarities between populations decrease as the geographic distances between them increase. widen. The genetic makeup of Western European cats, for example, is very different from that of Southeast Asian cats.

The researchers were also keen to point out the differences between domestic cats (Felis catus) and certain other animals—including horses and dogs—in terms of the effects of domestication and living in human company.

“We can actually call cats semi-domesticated because if we released them into the wild they would likely still hunt vermin and be able to survive and mate on their own due to their natural behaviors,” says Lyons.

“Unlike dogs and other domesticated animals, we didn’t really change the behaviors of cats during the domestication process, so cats once again turn out to be a special animal.”

The work undertaken by the team in this study and previously is helping to build a genetic database of conditions shared by felines and humans, including blindness and specific types of dwarfism. The genetic structure of the cat is actually more human-like than most other non-primate mammals.

Polycystic kidney disease is another example of a condition that can be fought with genetic information. Having dramatically reduced levels of the disease in Persian cats through genetic testing, researchers are currently conducting trials of diet-based treatments for the disease in humans.

“If these trials are successful, we may be able to get humans to try it as a more natural, healthier alternative to taking a drug that can cause liver failure or other health problems,” says Lyons. “Our efforts will continue to help, and it feels good to be a part of that.”

The research has been published in Heredity.

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