A note about The Cuddlywumps Chronicles

This blog is written and maintained by Miss Cuddlywumps, a fluffy-tailed calico cat who is both classically educated and familiar with mysteries. Comments or complaints should be addressed to Miss C rather than to author Roby Sweet. Ms. Sweet accepts no responsibility for Miss C's opinions.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Clues to Cat History Written in DNA



Miss Cuddlywumps Reviews Some Feline Genetic Data



Humans have long taken cats from place
to place on ships. This is a cat named Convoy
sleeping in his little hammock on board
HMS Hermione in 1941.
Photo by Beadell, S J (Lt), Royal Navy
official photographer [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons.
We cats like to think that we are our own masters and create our own destinies. But in truth, throughout our history you humans have moved us from place to place all around the world (and often on ships). More recently, you have purposely bred some of us to have a certain type of coat or color. I have recently been informed that traces of this history have been found in our DNA.

I refer to a 2007 study* of DNA from purebred and “random-bred” felines from all over the world. According to this study, a cat is a cat no matter where in the world the cat lives or what breed she is. But… cats from different places do have some regional genetic differences. An Asian cat is not quite the same as a Western European cat, a Mediterranean cat, or an East African cat.

What does any of this have to do with cat history? Well, our feline DNA contains clues about how you humans have moved us around in the past. For example:


  • American cats are genetically pretty much the same as Western European cats. The cats traveled from Europe on colonists’ ships and established their own sort of colonies in America. Apparently there has not been enough time yet for American cats to become distinct from their European ancestors.
  • Cats from Italy and Tunisia (in North Africa) are a mix of Western European and Mediterranean cats. This probably reflects the historic trading contacts between Tunisia and Western Europe. Ancient Carthage, a city in what is now Tunisia, was once a major port and center of trade. Ships sailing in and out of Carthage carried cats to control rats and mice, and sometimes those cats “jumped ship” in foreign ports.
  • Asian cats are genetically distinct from all other groups. This probably means that “domestic cats reached the Far East relatively early, followed by a long period of relative isolation” (p. 17). The early contact followed by isolation could indicate changes in trade relations between regions. When humans were not trading between East and West, Asian cats could not meet up with cats from other places, and they developed into their own unique group.


So you see how tied up cat history is with human history, what with your habit of taking us with you wherever you go. And I have not even said anything yet about the cats you breed on purpose. Let’s save that for next week.

[*Monika J. Lipinski and colleagues. (2008). “The ascent of cat breeds: Genetic evaluations of breeds and worldwide random-bred populations.” Genomics 91, 12–21.]

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