Leslie Lyons on feline genetics

November 21, 2009 at 7:42 pm Leave a comment

I’m going to try to blog this, but I’m sitting at a lunch table, so I don’t know how long it will be comfortable. But we’ll see.

Stacy Wolf, who is a lawyer for ASPCA–the sponsor of this lunch–is speaking to us first. She notes that ASPCA contributed to NY definition of companion animal: companion animals aren’t just those animals that we keep as pets; they are the stray dog on the street or the feral cat living in a colony. All of those animals, not just pets in homes, are protected under NY’s felony cruelty law. Some really horrible things have happened to cats this year, but all those people have been charged with felony cruelty. Talks about how slowly legislation moves and how long it takes to see changes, but if you’re in it for the long haul, you will see them. Talks about importance of writers to the process. Good writing doesn’t just teach and educate people; it illuminates and gives hope.

LL, Ph.D., helped organize the feline genome project and has lots of other credentials that I won’t get into right now. In her lab, cats rule and dogs drool. Cats are unique companion animals. We’re looking at Copycat, first cat cloned at Texas A&M. Ditteaux, first cloned wild cat. Siberian cats have a higher prevalence of cats that produce allergens. You don’t have to pay big bucks for a hypoallergenic cat.

You know, she talks way fast. I don’t know how much of this will be useful.

More Aby-type cats running around India than she’s seen any other place in the world.

Huge feral cat populations everywhere she goes in the world, Egypt for instance. If these cats were not there, we would have important health problems caused by plague- and vermin-carrying rats/mice.

Some of our work is to try to prove where cats were domesticated. Primarily in the Fertile Crescent: Turkey, Iraq, Iran and stretching down to Egypt. Iraq is prob the seat of domestication for cats. Some 36 diff species of cats. A couple of diff wild cat species could be the progenitors of domestic cats. So many more species of horses and dogs because they’ve been domesticated for a longer time, chosen for specialized traits and prob domesticated more than once. Cats already did what they were supposed to do, so they don’t have as many varieties.

Of some 26 diff cat breeds that they were able to look at, 23 of 26 were distinct. Persians and Exotics from a genetic point of view form one large population of cats. Also Siamese and Havana Brown–in Europe they’re the same breed of cat. Same for Scottish Fold and British Shorthair. Some cat breeds have more genetic variation than others.

We can look at overall genetic variation in breeds–the higher the better. Think about breeding programs for cats with little variation and high inbreeding.

P4 veterinary medicine: use genetics to predict whether cats will have a trait that we want or don’t want; personalize health care of each animal; prevent genetic problems by not breeding two carriers together. All of this equals participation in pet’s health care.

Can do ivermectin sensitivity test in dogs now to know whether to treat them with that drug or not.

Use genetics to add in diversity or select cats to import.

Cats can be fun because they’re an optical illusion. Brown tabby cat has no brown pigment. Trying to find gene for silver coloration in cats.

We want to figure out why cats get fat (shows slide of fat white cat reclining with a bottle of beer at his side).

We want to start looking at genetics of behavior: start understanding cats that are bold and cats that are less aggressive and be able to predict which cats will be best for certain families.

Putting together Cat Phir: Cat Phenotypic and Health Information Registry. Will collect DNA samples to build big database.


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