A special bond between humans and cats may have begun 10,000 years ago

A special bond between humans and cats may have begun 10,000 years ago

By Cara Murez HealthDay Reporter

(Health Day)

THURSDAY, Dec. 8, 2022 (HealthDay News) — That special bond you might have with a purring four-legged friend has existed between species for millennia, according to new research.

The human-cat relationship was likely forged over a shared interest in rats more than 10,000 years ago, investigators say. As farming became a way of life, cats served as ancient pest control, killing rodents and creating a bond with people that continues to this day.

For the study, University of Missouri researchers investigated these relationships using DNA, finding that rodents were the catalyst for the bond that led humans to take cats with them on their travels. .

The research team collected and analyzed DNA from cats in and around the Fertile Crescent, the region in the Middle East surrounding the Tigris and Euphrates rivers where humans first shifted from hunter-gatherers to farmers.

The team also studied cat DNA across Europe, Asia and Africa, comparing nearly 200 different genetic markers.

“One of the main DNA markers we studied was microsatellites, which mutate very rapidly and give us clues about recent cat populations and how breeds have evolved over the past few hundred years,” said said Leslie Lyons. She is a feline geneticist and professor of comparative medicine at the university’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

“Another key DNA marker we looked at was single nucleotide polymorphisms, which are single-base changes throughout the genome that give us clues to their ancient history many thousands of years ago,” added Lyons in a university press release. “By studying and comparing the two markers, we can begin to piece together the evolutionary history of cats.”

Lyons said the study strongly supports the theory that cats were likely first domesticated only in the Fertile Crescent before migrating with humans all over the world.

After feline genes were passed down to kittens from generation to generation, the genetic makeup of Western European cats is now vastly different from that of Southeast Asian cats, a process known as “insulation by distance”.

“We can actually call cats semi-domesticated because if we let them loose in the wild, they would probably still hunt vermin and be able to survive and mate on their own due to their natural behaviors. “Lyons said. “Unlike dogs and other domesticated animals, we didn’t really change the behaviors of cats during the domestication process, so cats once again turn out to be a special animal.”

Studies like this support Lyons’ larger research goal of using cats as a biomedical model to study genetic diseases that affect both cats and humans. This includes polycystic kidney disease, blindness and dwarfism.

“Comparative genetics and precision medicine play a key role in the ‘One Health’ concept, which means that anything we can do to study the causes of genetic diseases in cats or how to treat their ailments can be useful for treat humans with the same diseases one day,” Lyon said.

Lyons has worked for many years to develop comprehensive feline DNA databases, including genome sequencing of cats around the world.

Together with his colleagues, Lyons discovered in 2021 that the genomic structure of cats is more similar to that of humans than almost any other non-primate mammal.

“Our efforts have helped stop the migration and transmission of inherited genetic diseases around the world, and an example is polycystic kidney disease, as 38% of Persian cats had this disease when we first ran our genetic test in 2004,” Lyon said. “Now that percentage has dropped significantly thanks to our efforts, and our overall goal is to eradicate genetic diseases from cats down the road.”

The results were published online recently in the journal Heredity.

SOURCE: University of Missouri, press release, December 5, 2022

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