How Cats Became Domesticated? DNA Provides New Clues

Posted: Jun 20 2017, 2:52pm CDT | by , Updated: Jun 20 2017, 3:22pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
How Cats Became Domestic? DNA Provides New Clues
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DNA analysis shows how domestic cats spread around the world

The question, ‘Where do domestic cats come from?’ has perplexed researchers for a very long time. Over the years, many theories have been proposed in order to explain the origin of domestic cats. However, none was considered conclusive.

Cat domestication is generally linked to agriculture, when early farmers began to store grain. The grain attracted rodents, which in turn allowed wild cats to make their way into human residents and prey on rodents. That was the human’s first interaction with their little feline friends.

“Both sides profited from each other. Humans were happy there were less rodents, and the cats had food,” said Eva-Maria Geigl, an evolutionary geneticist at the Institut Jacques Monod in Paris. “The peculiar social and cultural context of the Egyptian society may have facilitated the evolution of a more 'friendly' disposition of cats towards humans.

In the new study, researchers have tracked their ancestors and provided a new insight into their global spread. Researchers have analyzed DNA from bones, teeth, skin, and hair of over 200 cats from different archaeological sites around the world and found that domestic cats originated from Near East and ancient Egypt some 10,000 years ago.

The DNA analysis further reveals that all domesticated cats today have a common ancestor: African wildcat or Felis silvestris lybica. Felis silvestris lybica is a wildcat subspecies that was found in North Africa and the Near East. Another linage of cats also existed in ancient Egypt. From there, they spread to other parts of the world like South West Asia, Africa and Europe through trading. Cat bones with recovered at Viking sites near the Baltic Sea also have Egyptian singature.

“We’re discovering incredible things about where they’ve come from, how far they’ve gone, and what kind of impact they’ve had on humans.”Researcher Claudio Ottoni told National Geographic.

Surprisingly, the cats skeletons recovered from different sites in the world look exactly similar to that of our domestic cats. Researchers have found that distinctive, blotched or stripped pattern on today’s cat coat emerged in the Middle Ages but didn't become common until the 18th Century. Overall, cats became a domesticated animal without too many changes in their genes and appearance.

“It's still unclear, however, whether the Egyptian domestic cat descends from cats imported from the Near East or whether a separate, second domestication took place in Egypt," said Ottoni. "Further research will have to show."

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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.

 

 

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