Here, kitty, kitty. The cat genome sheds light on feline evolution and domestication

Although this kitten looks fierce, Montague et al. recently uncovered the genes responsible for the taming of the house cat, Felis silvestris catus, which coincided with the development of agriculture about 10,00 years ago. Grain crops attracted rodents into human settlements and wildcats were not far behind.

There, many scientists suspect, they [cats] mostly domesticated themselves, with the friendliest ones able to take advantage of human table scraps and protection. -David Grimm

In their 2014 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences paper, Montague et al. published the most complete reference genome for the domestic cat to date. Their research identified the genes responsible for the diversification of felines from other carnivores and the process of domestication in the house cat.

Cats have the widest hearing range of all carnivores and accordingly, Montague et al. identified six genes under positive selection that are thought to increase auditory acuity. The authors also identified signatures of positive selection in a suit of genes related to lipid metabolism in cats, likely related to their obligate carnivory and adherence to a diet high in saturated and polyunsaturated fats.

In terms of domestication in the house cat, the cat genome revealed 13 genes on 5 chromosomal regions that influence behaviors, such as the loss of fear, and responses to rewards, food rewards, in particular. Interestingly, cats appear to be less domesticated than dogs.

The number of genomic regions with strong signals of selection since cat domestication appears modest compared with those in the domestic dog, which is concordant with a more recent domestication history, the absence of strong selection for specific physical characteristics, as well as limited isolation from wild populations. -Montague et al.

This may explain why even the most docile lap kitty has a little bit of wildcat inside.

Montague, Michael J., et al. (2014) Comparative analysis of the domestic cat genome reveals genetic signatures underlying feline biology and domestication. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1410083111

Grimm (2014) The genes that turned wildcats into kitty cats. Science. vol. 346. pg 799.

About Melissa DeBiasse

I am a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Florida Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience. As an evolutionary ecologist I am interested in the processes that generate biodiversity in marine ecosystems. My research uses experimental methods and genomic and phenotypic data to test how marine invertebrate species respond to biotic and abiotic stressors over ecological and evolutionary timescales.
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