JUL 29, 2021 8:11 AM PDT

Can Cats Help Us Learn More About Genomic Dark Matter?

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Cats have been a part of human society for thousands of years, and now scientists are suggesting that they could help provide valuable insight into the noncoding portions of the mammalian genome. Leslie Lyons, an expert in veterinary medicine at the University of Missouri, has written in Trends in Genetics that scientists are overlooking the research value of cats. She noted that the feline genome is organized in a way that's similar to the human genome. While the genomes of mice (a common research model) or dogs have chromosomes that aren't like ours, the protein coding genes carried by domestic cats "are about the same size as humans, as well as a genome that, like humans, is very organized and conserved," said Lyons.

Image credit: Max Pixel

If a portion of the genome is said to be conserved, that means it's very similar even between very different species; even as animals evolved, the gene remained relatively unchanged. Such genes are often thought to have particular significance or importance.

Many molecular techniques are built around understanding how and when genes are expressed as proteins, and what happens to cells when those proteins are lost. Usually, research models like cell lines or mice are used for those studies.

But a huge portion of our genome does not code for protein. Researchers once disregarded that genetic material as useless junk, but more recent studies have found functional roles in gene regulation for some of this non-coding DNA. It's sometimes now referred to as genomic dark matter because we know so little about it. Investigating the role of non-coding DNA can be extremely challenging. Since some non-coding portions of the feline genome have been linked to cat disease, Lyons noted that cats might be useful as a model organism for studying non-coding DNA.

"As we discover that perhaps animals have more similar spacing between genes and the genes are in the same order, maybe that will help us to decipher what's going on with humans," Lyons said. "Working with a primate is on the expensive side, but a cat's affordability and docile nature make them one of the most feasible animals to work with to understand the human genome."

It's also possible to engineer transgenic cats. In 2001, the first cat clone, which was named CopyCat or Cc, was created. Although the donor cell for the clone came from a calico cat with black, orange, and white fur, CopyCat did not have any orange fur, showing that we also have more to learn about genetic inheritance in cats.

A project called the 99 Lives Consortium is seeking to link genetic mutations to certain traits in cats, whether they are related to appearance, like fur color, or they cause disease. It's now possible to sequence the entire genome of a cat for about $750. Learn more about the goals of the project here.

Sources: Phys.org via Cell Press, Trends in Genetics

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
JUN 28, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
The 'Imprint' of Mom and Dad
JUN 28, 2021
The 'Imprint' of Mom and Dad
We carry two copies of each non-sex chromosome, and thus, two copies of most genes. For simplicity's sake, it's ...
JUL 28, 2021
Microbiology
Histones May Be Essential to Amoeba-Infecting Viruses
JUL 28, 2021
Histones May Be Essential to Amoeba-Infecting Viruses
Histones are proteins that are used to organize and compact DNA. Some giant viruses called Marseilleviridae have also be ...
AUG 04, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
Consuming Too Much Sugar Could Disrupt the Cell's Powerhouses
AUG 04, 2021
Consuming Too Much Sugar Could Disrupt the Cell's Powerhouses
Both processed and prepared foods often contain high levels of sugar. It's thought that the average American eats almost ...
AUG 08, 2021
Drug Discovery & Development
Dietary Supplements Treat Genetic Cause of PTSD
AUG 08, 2021
Dietary Supplements Treat Genetic Cause of PTSD
A combination of two natural nutritional supplements, vitamin A and methyl donor S-adenosylmethionine (SAM), can treat P ...
AUG 29, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
Learning More About How a microRNA is Involved in ALS
AUG 29, 2021
Learning More About How a microRNA is Involved in ALS
The loss of a microRNA might be interfering with neuromuscular synapse function, causing breathing muscle paralysis, sug ...
SEP 23, 2021
Clinical & Molecular DX
Skin Microbiome Analysis Gets Cleaned Up
SEP 23, 2021
Skin Microbiome Analysis Gets Cleaned Up
  Our skin is home to a carnival of millions of bacteria, fungi, and viruses that together form the dermal microbio ...
Loading Comments...