Cat Genome Sequenced by Giant Multinational Team

Cinnamon the Abyssinian and Boris of St. Petersburg make history, with help of 25-man team on three continents.

Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster
Yes, this Sphynx cat has about the same genetic makeup as you. Now you know. This one's name, by the way, is Narcotic.
Yes, this Sphynx cat has about the same genetic makeup as you. Now you know. This one's name, by the way, is Narcotic.Credit: AP
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster

The cat genome has been completely sequenced, or at least that of Cinnamon has, she being an Abyssinian living at the University of Missouri in Columbia. But Cinnamon can be held representative of her species, says the vast 25-man multinational team signed onto the research paper published last week in GigaScience, "Annotated features of domestic cat - Felis catus genome."

Genes are one thing, their expression another. The genome of Boris, a cat from St. Petersburg underwent bisulfite sequencing to help determine the expression of the genes (based on methylation of the DNA), the team describes.

Why would anybody want to sequence the genes of the cat, aside from to bow before the wonder?

One reason is better understanding of disease, in theory. Cats and humans don't tend to infect one another with diseases – you won't catch cat flu and vice versa. (You can mutually transmit ringworm.) But pragmatists point out that cats are known to suffer from about 250 conditions that are analogous to human conditions. Among them are feline leukemia and so-called "feline AIDS," which like the human sort is caused by a virus that depresses the immune system.

"Feline infectious agents offer powerful natural models of deadly human diseases," writes the team, headed by Gaik Tamazian of Saint-Petersburg State University, a specialist less in cats than in mathematical decision-making.

All this gargantuan team did is sequence Cinnamon. What the genes mean and how their outcome translates into an online obsession with cats is for the rest of the world to figure out.

The team, manned by scientists from leading institutes in Russia, the United States, Turkey, and Europe, found 21,865 genes coding for proteins - about the same as in humans - and intriguingly, again like in the human genome, the scientists identified ancient retroviral DNA that had integrated into the genome.

Sequencing whole genomes has become a lot faster thanks to advanced genetic techniques. The cat joins a not-short list of animals whose genomes are fully sequenced, from the nematode to the fruit fly to the greater false vampire bat to the platypus – where some extraordinary surprises lay. But that's another story. And yes, dogs were sequenced, back in 2005. What took sequencing the cat in full so long? Probably catching it.

An Abyssinian cat, Valentino. He too has about the same number of protein-coding genes that you do.Credit: Martin Bahmann, Wikimedia Commons

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