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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

New project aims to shed light on cat and human disease by mapping out the feline genome

We know so much less about cats than their canine counterparts when it comes to their behavior, habits — and in some respects, their health.

There's been a lot of interest garnered in knowing more. Perhaps because of the strides that have been made in the area of genetic sequencing of dogs and other mammals, the goal of one project getting underway at UC Davis, in Davis, Calif., called the 99 Lives Cat Whole Genome Sequencing Initiative, is to put together a genetic portrait of felines.

Leslie Lyons, a former professor at UC Davis (now with the University of Missouri), knows that as technology grows to help foster a better understanding of disease and how to treat it in cats, getting to the root of things by way of mapping out the feline genome could be helpful.

Nine cats were originally slated for the study, however Lyon and her colleagues decided that  number was too small to build a comprehensive genetic portrait. So instead, they went with ninety-nine.

Mapping out the over 20,000 genes that exist in the feline genome wouldn't just clue researchers in on how a cat gets their eye color, fur length, type and coloration, but health issues that are found in humans and cats.

The findings could prove to be helpful for humans who suffer from illnesses like polycystic kidney disease and spinal muscular atrophy, since these diseases that also affect cats.

The canine genome has also been mapped to help better understand human health, due in part because it is less complex than the human genome.

To conduct the study, genetic code will be extracted from the reproductive organs of spayed and neutered cats.

All breeds of cat are sought to be included, including the long-haired Maine Coon to the domestic shorthair, and everything in between.

The team is seeking samples from cats the world over, since diversity is the key. Cats in North America and the United Kingdom have similar genetic backgrounds, as their lineage by and large hails from Western Europe. Those from Asia, the Middle East and the rest of the world all differ as well.

The team is working on the project with Maverix Biomics.

The isn't the first foray into learning more about feline genetics. In 2007, an Abyssinian cat's genetic code was sequenced, but the technology that was available then was far less advanced than today.

Will cat owners shell out the money for the DNA tests that could result from this research? Judging from the amount that people already spend on their pets, that could happen.

"It might give us clues very quickly as to what genes to focus on" says Lyons, with regard to specific cat's health.

"We want to bring the health care standards of our pets to a comparable standard for humans."

Read more about the project by clicking here.

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

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