House Cats are Just 'Semi-domesticated': Study


Ever felt your cat is out to get you? That may be because it's just semi-domesticated.

House cats have been sharing homes with people for at least 9,000 years but that doesn't mean they've completely shaken off their wild nature. In fact, most traits house cats have are similar to their cousins in the wild, like the ability to hunt and survive with little human intervention.

A study led by researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine provides first evidence that house cats are not that different from cats in the wild.

The cat genome sequencing project started out in 2007 with the initial aim of studying hereditary diseases in house cats, some of which are similar to those that humans are affected with, like metabolic and infectious diseases and neurological disorders. Looking at reference genomes from an Abyssinian and a Birman, researchers spotted differences that helped explain certain characteristics why cats are mostly carnivorous and how their sense of sight and smell are different from other animals'.

"Using advanced genome sequencing technology, we were able to shed light on the genetic signatures of cats' unique biology and survival skills. And we were able to significantly jump start our knowledge about the evolution of cat domestication," explained Wes Warren, Ph.D., the study's senior author and genetics associate professor at Washington University's The Genome Institute.

The researchers were actually surprised to find DNA evidence of domestication since cats are relatively new to the experience. Compared to domestic dogs weaned from wolves more than 30,000 years ago, house cats have only recently split from their counterparts in the wild, lured into staying with humans in exchange for food as they rid homes and barns of rodents.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It received funding support from the National Human Genome Research Institute, National Science Foundation, Morris Animal Foundation, European Research Council, Spanish government, Winn Feline Foundation, and National Center for Research Resources.

Aside from Warren, other authors include William Murphy, Leslie Lyons, Richard Wilson, Stephen O'Brien, Marilyn Menotti-Raymond, Matthew Hahn, Gregg Thomas, Can Alkan, Tomas Marques-Bonet, Belen Lorente-Galdos, Jaview Quilez, Kevin Blackistone, Christina Barr, Carlos Driscoll, Brian Davis, Daniel Koboldt, LaDeana Hillier, Patrick Minx, Steven Searle, Bronwen Aken, Razib Khan, Barbara Gandolfi, Gang Li, and Michael Montague.

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