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article imageCats adopted humans, according to new study

By Tim Sandle     Jun 21, 2017 in Science
Leuven - New research looking at the genomes of cats has come up with something interesting: the domestic cats of today are genetically equivalent to ancient cats. Cats did not genetically adapt to become domesticated, they chose to.
Cats (Felis catus) have long been valued by humans for companionship and for their ability to hunt vermin and, over time, came to be taken on as household pets. The worldwide population is thought to exceed 500 million. How did the relationship between humans and cats develop and did cats go through any selective pressure (genetic change) to 'learn' to live with people?
A cat called Gizmo  one of Tim Sandle s pets.
A cat called Gizmo, one of Tim Sandle's pets.
Unlike the relationship between the wolf to the wild dog and to the domestic dog, cats have not experienced any significant variation to their genetic make-up. Indeed the only difference between ancient cats and today’s modern cat is visual appearance with the characteristic spots of the tabby cat being a product of close association with people. The lack of genetic variation supports notions that cats chose to become domesticated rather than this being part of any genetic alterations. In other words, cats adopted us.
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The mitochondrial DNA analysis, performed at the University of Leuven, reveals cats lived for thousands of years alongside people before they became domesticated. This is based on a review of the DNA collected from 200 cats spanning the past 9,000 years. For this material was collected from ancient Roman and Egyptian remains. These samples were compared with samples of African wildcats and domestic pets.
A cat called Stripe  one of Tim Sandle s pets.
A cat called Stripe, one of Tim Sandle's pets.
The research also allows the journey of cats to be traced, according to National Geographic. The ancestors of domestic cats moved from southwest Asia and into Europe around 4400 BCE. Cats began gravitating towards farming communities some 8,000 years ago. Here the relationship with humans became mutually beneficial, with the cats catching and killing crop-damaging rodents. Around the same time, African cats found in Egypt moved into the around 1500 BCE. These cats, according to lead researcher Dr. Claudio Ottoni, most probably demonstrated behaviors that were attractive to people like sociability and tameness.
Given that wild and domestic cats showed no major differences in their genetic makeup the researchers conclude that cats decided that it was in their interest to live in close association with humans rather than selective breeding or other genetic alterations which paved the way for domesticity.
One of the researchers involved, Dr Eva-Maria Geigl, told the BBC: “I would say cats chose human company, but it was a commensal relationship - it was profitable to both sides.” She adds: “The cat was useful from the very beginning - it didn't have to be changed.”
In contrast with dogs the animals were selected to perform specific tasks, where selection for specific traits led to the diversification of dogs into different breeds as well as genetic adaptation.
The findings are published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution. The research is titled “The palaeogenetics of cat dispersal in the ancient world.”
More about Cats, Adaptation, Evolution, Genetics, Feline
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