Nav: Home

Domestication genetics: The career of the cosmopolitan cat

June 21, 2017

A new study shows that modern domestic cats are ultimately derived from the African wildcat, which was domesticated in two centers -- Egypt and the Middle East. Moreover, both lineages contributed to the genomes of European cats.

With a little help from friends, the cat has conquered the most remote parts of the world. Archaeological evidence suggests that cats had already established a close association with human societies almost 10,000 years ago. Nevertheless, relatively little is known about the history of their domestication. Genetic analyses carried out by an international team of researchers now show that lineages which originated in Egypt and the Near East were ancestral to our modern domestic cats. Professor Joris Peters, Chair of Paleoanatomy, Domestication Research and the History of Veterinary Medicine at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich, played a major role in the investigation: Much of the material used in the study originated from the Bavarian State Collections for Anthropology and Paleoanatomy, of which he is the current Director.

Genetic analyses of modern housecats have already shown that all were derived from the African wildcat, Felis silvestris lybica. F. s. lybica is one of the five recognized subspecies of wildcats, and is found in North Africa and Southwestern Asia. "In order to shed further light on the cat's domestication history, we have now performed a comparative analysis of ancient cat DNA isolated from remains recovered in archaeological excavations and from material stored in museum collections," says Peters. "The samples we investigated come from Europe, Africa and Southwestern Asia and included Egyptian mummies. They allow us to journey back in time to the beginning of the close relationship between cats and humans, which was established as a consequence of the development of sedentary agricultural communities cultivating cereals." The oldest sample examined dates from about 9000 years ago, the youngest from the 19th century.

To trace the process of cat domestication and dispersal, the study focused on mitochondrial DNA. Mitochondria are responsible for energy production in all animal cells and are maternally inherited. The analyses revealed that, in the Neolithic period prior to the establishment of agriculture, the African wildcat's natural range was far larger than hitherto assumed. In fact, it extended into Southeastern Europe, where F. s. lybica came into contact with the European wildcat, Felis silvestris silvestris. The mitochondrial DNA lineage brought to Europe by F. s. lybica had arrived by about the year 4400 BCE, and it represents Southwestern Asia's contribution to the evolutionary transformation of the African wildcat into today's familiar housecat.

The dispersal of the domesticated Egyptian lineage onto the European continent, on the other hand, likely occurred in Antiquity and proceeded along the Mediterranean maritime trade routes pioneered by the Greeks and the Romans. "Most probably, sailors took many of these cats on board their ships to keep rats and mice in check," says Peters. "In fact we were able to identify one lineage that must have reached Northern Germany during the Viking Age."

On arrival in Europe, the immigrants intermixed with the local subspecies of wildcat, giving rise to a variety of hybrid lineages. Many of these episodes of hybridization can be approximately dated. One mutation in the nuclear DNA results in a coat-color pattern known as tabby blotched (which is quite distinct from the 'mackerel' pattern characteristic of wildcats), and this gene variant is very common among contemporary European housecats. However, the new study shows that the mutation was actively selected only in the Middle Ages, long after the arrival of the first domesticated cats on the continent. Based on this finding, the authors suggest that the initial domestication process may have focused on selection for behavioral traits rather than on coat color or marking patterns.
-end-


Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München

Related Mitochondrial Dna Articles:

Mitochondrial disease has a disproportionate healthcare burden in US
Mitochondrial diseases are a diverse group of disorders caused by mutated genes that impair energy production in a patient's cells, often with severe effects.
The art of folding mitochondrial membranes
Oliver Daumke's lab figures out how the inner membranes of mitochondria 'get their groove' and assume the complex shapes they need to carry out crucial cellular functions.
New online database has answers on mitochondrial disorders
Providing answers - or at least more information - to the most difficult medical questions is the aim of medical scientists.
How to protect cells from selfish mitochondrial DNA
Using yeast cells as a model, scientists from the A.N.
Nuclear transfer of mitochondrial DNA in colon and rectal cancer
Patients with colon and rectal cancer have somatic insertions of mitochondrial DNA into the nuclear genomes of the cancer cells, UAB researchers report in the journal Genome Medicine.
FASEB Science Research Conference: Mitochondrial Biogenesis
The central role of mitochondria in normal cell physiology is evident from human diseases, including metabolic disorders and aging, which are associated with changes in mitochondrial function.
Mitochondrial DNA shows past climate change effects on gulls
To understand the present and future, we have to start with the past.
New research provides key insight about mitochondrial replacement therapy
A new study suggests a method for conducting mitochondrial replacement therapy in such a way that safely prevents the transmission of harmful mitochondrial gene mutations from mothers to their children.
Study shows link between mitochondrial DNA and autism
Cornell University researchers have confirmed a genetic link between mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), which is passed on from the mother, and some forms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Autism spectrum disorder linked to mutations in some mitochondrial DNA
Children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder have greater numbers of harmful mutations in their mitochondrial DNA than family members, report Zhenglong Gu of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and colleagues, in a study published Oct.

Related Mitochondrial Dna Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Anthropomorphic
Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#SB2 2019 Science Birthday Minisode: Mary Golda Ross
Our second annual Science Birthday is here, and this year we celebrate the wonderful Mary Golda Ross, born 9 August 1908. She died in 2008 at age 99, but left a lasting mark on the science of rocketry and space exploration as an early woman in engineering, and one of the first Native Americans in engineering. Join Rachelle and Bethany for this very special birthday minisode celebrating Mary and her achievements. Thanks to our Patreons who make this show possible! Read more about Mary G. Ross: Interview with Mary Ross on Lash Publications International, by Laurel Sheppard Meet Mary Golda...