AUG 29, 2017 02:59 PM PDT

Understanding Cat Domestication Through Mitochondrial Genetics

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Cats have been traveling with people for thousands of years, carried around the globe by mariners, farmers, and Vikings. Research has analyzed genetic specimens from cats that lived at a variety of times between the 18th century and 15,000 years ago. Very little work has been done in this area, and we don’t know much about the genetics of domesticated cats. You can learn more about what we do know from the video below, by Nature video.

“We don’t know the history of ancient cats. We do not know their origin, we don't know how their dispersal occurred,” said Eva-Maria Geigl, an evolutionary geneticist with the Institut Jacques Monod in Paris. Last year, she presented a new analysis at the 7th International Symposium on Biomolecular Archaeology in Oxford, UK, with colleagues Claudio Ottoni and Thierry Grange.

Scientists have debated whether cats are truly domesticated; the house cat, Felis silvestris, may not be anatomically or behaviorally distinct from wild relatives.

This work indicated that cat populations likely grew in waves. One mitochondrial lineage arose in the Middle East, migrating to the eastern Mediterranean with farming communities. Geigl suggested that rodents were attracted to the grain stored by these groups, and they, in turn, drew cats. Humans may have found the cats beneficial, and tamed them.

Thousands of years went by, and Egyptian cats then began to spread through Africa and Eurasia. Egyptian cat mummies carried a mitochondrial lineage that was shared with cats in Turkey, Bulgaria, and sub-Saharan Africa. This same lineage, from the fourth century, was also identified at a Viking site sample dating to some time between the eighth and eleventh century around Germany. Sea-faring people may have liked cats for rodent control as well, noted Geigl.

Auob Riverbed, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, South Africa - African Wild Cat - Felis lybica / Credit: WikimediaCommons/Bernard Dupont

Felis silvestris has five subspecies, and as the video notes, only one of those was tamed successfully - Felis silvestris lybica. In the wild, the native range of this small cat covers a wide area including Europe, Africa, Southwest and Central Asia, western China, and Mongolia. There are changes in the physical characteristics of wild cats according to geography, such as body size, fur length, and coloration.

The researchers want to continue their work to reveal more details about how the domestication of cats. It seems though that there is far more funding for research that investigates the genetic makeup of dogs. However, Geigl is ready for more studies. “We can do it, too,” she told Nature, “we just need money.”

 

Sources: Nature, Wikipedia

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on 28 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 60 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
SEP 17, 2019
Cell & Molecular Biology
SEP 17, 2019
The Mechanism of a TB Therapeutic is Revealed & May Improve Drug Design
Electron, correlated light, and ion microscopy were combined, and the action of a TB drug was observed. / Image credit: Daniel Greenwood, Francis Crick Institute...
SEP 17, 2019
Genetics & Genomics
SEP 17, 2019
Genome-wide Expression Differences Between the Sexes
In many mammals, there are clear differences between the sexes. Average heights get higher in men relative to women, for example....
SEP 17, 2019
Genetics & Genomics
SEP 17, 2019
Same Repetitive DNA Sequence at the Root of Several Rare Neurodegenerative Disorders
Reporting in Nature Genetics, scientists have now identified a genetic feature underlying three neurodegenerative diseases....
SEP 17, 2019
Cell & Molecular Biology
SEP 17, 2019
Stopping Metastasis After Breast Cancer Surgery
Cancer is most deadly when it metastasizes, which can happen after tumor-removal surgery. It's a serious challenge for many patients....
SEP 17, 2019
Technology
SEP 17, 2019
Bioprinting Complex Tissues
Tissue engineering is a quickly growing field that involves the development of artificial organs and tissues that can be utilized to test the efficacy of d...
SEP 17, 2019
Neuroscience
SEP 17, 2019
Neuroscientists create a stunning digital map of 1,000 neurons
Two years ago, Dr. Jayaram Chandrashekar and his colleagues at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Janelia Research Campus sought out to map the mouse brain as intricately as possible. Now,...
Loading Comments...