Cat DNA study confirms Middle East origins

A study of DNA from 11,000 cats (imagine getting cheek swabs from that many cats) confirms their origins in the “Fertile Crescent” of the Middle East, about the time people there started settling down, growing crops and looking for some way to keep the mice out of the grain store.

“This study confirms earlier research suggesting that the domestication of the cat started in the Fertile Crescent region,” said Monika Lipinski, lead researcher on the study and a doctoral candidate in the School of Veterinary Medicine. “It also provides a warning for modern cat fanciers to make sure they maintain a broad genetic base as they further develop their breeds.”

The results show that cats cluster into four regional groups based on their DNA: European (including North American domestic cats), Mediterranean basin, East African and Asian. Genetic diversity seems to be quite high among cats, although the researches warn that there is some evidence of narrowing of the gene pool by selective breeding to create particular breeds.

Leslie Lyons, an authority on cat genetics and principal investigator on this study, said: “More than 200 genetic disorders have been identified in modern cats, and many are found in pure breeds. We hope that cat breeders will use the genetic information uncovered by this study to develop efficient breed-management plans and avoid introducing genetically linked health problems into their breeds.”

The paper was published in the January issue of the journal Genomics.

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