Kitty’s family tree analyzed
Jun 29,2007 00:00 by Bend_Weekly_News_Sources

House­cats around the world can now trace their an­ces­try back to the Near East­ern wild­cat, Fe­lis sil­vestris ly­bica, re­search­ers say af­ter a new DNA anal­y­sis.

Do­mes­tic cats come from a “found­er” pop­u­la­t­ion of five or more fe­lines that were do­mes­ti­cat­ed in the Fer­tile Cres­cent zone of the Near East probably some­time over 9,000 years ago, they said.

A wild­cat, Fe­lis sil­vestris ly­bica, which was trapped as part of the re­search in­to the or­i­gin of cat do­mes­ti­ca­tion. (Im­age © Sci­ence)

These cats would have come from a line­age that split off from F. s. ly­bica around 107,000 to 155,000 years ago. 

They likely be­gan their as­socia­t­ion with hu­mans by “feed­ing on ro­dent pests in­fest­ing grain stores of the first farm­ers,” wrote the re­search­ers, re­port­ing their find­ings in the June 29 is­sue of the re­search jour­nal Sci­ence.

The sci­en­tists, Car­los Dris­coll of the Un­ivers­ity of Ox­ford, U.K. and col­leagues stud­ied ev­o­lu­tion­ary rela­t­ion­ships among do­mes­tic cats and the wild cat sub­spe­cies: the Eu­ro­pe­an wild­cat, the Near East­ern wild­cat, the Cen­tral Asian wild­cat, the south­ern Af­ri­can wild­cat, and the Chin­ese des­ert cat. 

Wild and do­mes­tic cats have of­ten in­ter­bred so closely that it’s al­most im­pos­si­ble to tell the two apart, they not­ed. 

The do­mes­tic cat is some­times con­sid­ered a sub­spe­cies of its own, F. s. catus, though tech­nic­ally “do­mes­tic cat” can mean any do­mes­ti­cat­ed fe­line.

Us­ing ge­net­ic ma­te­ri­al from 979 cats, Dris­coll and col­leagues an­a­lyzed the varia­t­ion among DNA se­quences at a va­ri­e­ty of “mark­er” spots with­in the genomes, to de­ter­mine which line­ages were most closely re­lat­ed. 

They found that each of the sub­spe­cies as well as do­mes­tic cats fell in­to a dis­tinct, ge­net­ic­ally re­lat­ed group, or “clade.” 

One clade in­clud­ed do­mes­tic cats and some wild­cats from the Mid­dle East, sug­gest­ing that this group stems from the an­ces­tral found­er popula­t­ion of all do­mes­tic cats, they wrote.

Courtesy Science and World Science staff