Well, if this isn't the cat's meow! Your cat is wilder than you think.
Unlike dogs, which have been domesticated for more than 30,000 years, cats are only semi-domesticated, cohabiting with humans for just 9,000 years.
That's the word from researchers at The Genome Institute at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, who compared the genomes--that is, the genetic blueprints--of domestic and wild cats.
The surprise finding: There is actual DNA evidence of cats' domestication, compared with their wild cousins, something that really surprised study leader Wes Warren, associate professor of genetics at Wash U.
The initial goal in sequencing the genome of the domestic cat was to study certain genetic diseases in cats that are similar to those in people, including neurological disorders and infectious and metabolic diseases.
To this end Warren and his team mapped the genome of a female Abyssinian cat named Cinnamon, whose lineage could be traced back several generations. In addition, the team mapped the genomes of a wider array of certain purebred cats.
What the genome mapping revealed: Even though the genome of domestic cats has changed little since their split from wild cats, this new genome mapping shows key areas where the house cat's genome did diverge significantly from their wilder cousins. These include the regions involved in memory, fear and reward-seeking, all of which are thought to play a role in domestication.
"Humans most likely welcomed cats because they controlled rodents that consumed their grain harvests," Warren explained. "We hypothesized that humans would offer cats food as a reward to stick around."
These ancient cats quickly wised up and realized a sweet deal when they saw it. Pair up with humans, and they would get free food, affection and a life of ease. And as the centuries passed, humans preferred kitties that were more docile, which helped create this behavior.
Collaborators in the research include Texas A&M University; University of Missouri-Columbia; University of California-Davis; Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the United Kingdom; Pompeu Fabra University in Spain; Centro de Analisis Genomico in Spain; Bilkent University in Turkey; Indiana University; Center for Cancer Research in Maryland; St. Petersburg State University in Russia; and Nova Southeastern University in Florida.
The study findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
--From the Editors at Netscape