Miss Cuddlywumps continues her investigation of cat DNA and history
This Siamese cat is genetically linked to cats from
Southeast Asia. Photo by Syed Zillay Ali
[CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.
Today I, Miss Cuddlywumps, am continuing my investigation of cat DNA and how it relates to cat history. Today I am considering the DNA of purebred cats. Where did the different cat breeds come from, and how are they related to other cats? According to a study* I have been looking into, purebred cats mostly originated right where the “breed lore” says they did. Details to come, but first, some preliminaries.
You humans developed most of today’s cat breeds within just the last 150 years, and you did it based on looks. You might have bred dogs to retrieve or herd or guard, but you bred cats to be pretty. The Cat Fanciers Association currently recognizes 42 breeds, 16 of which are “natural breeds” that are thought to be regional varieties that developed on their own. The study I am referring to investigated DNA from random-bred cats and 22 different breeds, including 15 of the natural breeds (the Manx was the only natural breed not included).
The results revealed that most purebred cats are related genetically to random-bred cats from the places where the breeds originated:
- Birman, Burmese, Havana Brown, Korat, Siamese, and Singapura cats fit into a Southeast Asian cat group that is distinct from Western groups. These breeds are genetically linked with random-bred cats from Vietnam, China, Korea, and Singapore.
- Turkish Vans are linked with random-bred cats from Turkey, Israel, and Egypt.
- Siberians (a Russian breed) could not be compared to other Russian cats but were genetically similar to random-bred cats in nearby Germany and Finland.
There were some exceptions:
- Abyssinians and Japanese Bobtails are genetically linked with both Southeast Asian and Western breeds. This tells us that these breeds originated with cats from Asia and Europe.
- Persians are linked with random-bred cats from Western Europe, not from the Near East like you might expect. The Persian is one of the world’s oldest cat breeds and is rumored to have traveled along with camel caravans in ancient times. The breed may have originated in Persia, but over all those years and through some “complex gene interaction” (p. 19) Persians have lost their genetic link to random-bred Near East cats.
- Egyptian Maus have been so genetically influenced by European cats they are beginning to lose their Egyptian genetic identity.
So once again, you can see how cat history, and our history with humans, is written in our DNA.
[*Monika J. Lipinski and colleagues. (2008). “The ascent of cat breeds: Genetic evaluations of breeds and worldwide random-bred populations.” Genomics 91, 12–21.]