Mapping Domestic Cat Genes

Mapping all 20,000 genes of the domestic cat is intended to allow scientists to (a) improve human health (b) improve cat health and (c) better understand the origins of the domestic cat (and how it spread across the world) and provided cat breeds are included in studies, the evolution of the cat breeds. Until now geneticists have focused on dogs. There are gaps in knowledge regarding genetic information in relation to diseases shared between cats and humans.

Drawing of genes and DNA

Artwork: The Natural History Museum.

Accordingly, more work is being done on mapping domestic cat genes following the publication of the first full DNA genome last year in the journal Nature. ‘Genome’ means the genetic material of the cat or human and any other organism.

The reason why human health can benefit is because a number of major illnesses suffered by the domestic cat are similar to those of humans, such as diabetes and kidney disease. Sadly, this is one reason why cats are tested in laboratories by pharma companies. There is actually quite a close biological relationship between cat and human: notice, for example, how cats are becoming fatter along with humans and suffering from the same diseases as a consequence.

As I understand it, mapping a cat’s genes in their entirety allows medical scientists to cross-reference illnesses with certain genes and genetic mutations. I believe we are largely talking about genetic diseases. Also I suppose, a certain genetic makeup can predispose a cat and a person to contract certain diseases.

There is a lot of work going on nowadays on curing or preventing disease at source through the science of genetics – breeding out health problems as opposed to treating them with drugs. Is this genetic engineering or could it also be social engineering (something generally considered unacceptable)?

What is a little concerning for me is that the cat is being used in research into human diseases. I hope this does not mean cats ending up in laboratories in medical research where they are abused – I don’t believe it does, incidentally. At present, I don’t understand the nature of this research sufficiently to fully comment on that.

Researchers, lead by Professor Leslie at the University of Missouri have launched a new project called 99 Lives to try and plug some gaps in knowledge and progress the work on analysing cat genetics. Cat caretakers can submit material such as blood and tissue from their cat to have it analysed. It will cost the cat caretaker though, which I find interesting. I suppose the cat owner receives a full genetic report at the end of the day. The price: £5,000 or about $7,500 USD.

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