(ORDO NEWS) — Whether humans domesticated the cat or whether it domesticated the human is still an open question.
But when exactly the masterful purrs began to live next to a person, genetics helped to clarify: it turned out that our fragile union has been at least ten thousand years old.
Different domestic animals began to live next to man at different times: first people domesticated dogs, then came the turn of pigs, sheep and goats, then cattle, and so on.
For a long time it was believed that the cat began to live next to a person relatively late and this influenced her “independent” behavior, as well as how easily these pets run wild and begin to hunt on their own.
However, a new study by geneticists from the University of Missouri (USA) showed that everything is not so simple: already ten thousand years ago, people who lived on the lands of the Fertile Crescent in the Middle East, switched to a sedentary lifestyle and, instead of hunting and gathering, began to grow plants.
Since the harvest inevitably attracted many hungry rodents, farmers needed protection from pests – and this service was provided to them by the first domesticated cats.
To determine when cats were domesticated, scientists collected and analyzed the DNA of cats in and around the Fertile Crescent, as well as in Europe, Asia and Africa, comparing about 200 different genetic markers.
They were especially interested in microsatellites – repetitive stretches of DNA that rapidly accumulate mutations and reflect genetic changes in cat populations over the past hundreds of years – and single nucleotide polymorphisms that reflect millennia-old history.
By studying and comparing data on both markers, geneticists have been able to reconstruct the history of domestic cats.
It turned out that if people domesticated horses and livestock repeatedly in different parts of the world, then cats, apparently, were first domesticated in the Fertile Crescent, after which they followed people in their worldwide distribution.
Now, of course, the genetic composition of cats in Western Europe is very different from that in southern Asia, but all of them, despite long isolation and interbreeding with local wild cat species, originate from the same root.
Studying the genetics and origins of cats is useful not only in terms of clarifying human history. For example, many genetic defects are observed in both cats and humans, so the results obtained on these animals may be useful for treating humans – and vice versa.
For example, scientists are now working on ways to treat polycystic kidney disease , which affects several million people and almost 38 percent of all Persian cats in existence.
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