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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Feline Genetics

 
 

Cats may not have nine lives, but thanks to the efforts of Texas A&M’s William Murphy as well as other researchers across the country, scientists hope to better understand the one they do have.
Murphy, a professor in the department of veterinary integrative biosciences, recently began to contribute to the “99 Lives Cat Whole Genome Sequencing Initiative,” which seeks to obtain the genetic sequences of 99 cats to better understand the genetic basis of feline disease.
Domestic cats are a diverse species, with many breeds found all over the world. The “99 Lives” project takes samples, usually blood, from various breeds of cats and sequences their genomes. These cat genomes are then used to map specific genes in a variety of cat breeds, which will eventually allow researchers to identify the genetic source of both physical traits and health problems.
The “99 Lives” project was started by former UC Davis professor Leslie Lyons. Lyons, who now works at the University of Missouri, said she hopes the project will provide the resources necessary to treat genetic diseases found in cats.
“We’re trying to improve genetic and genomic resources for the domestic cat,” Lyons said. “Our overall hope is to have the available tools so that we can study complex traits that are found in cats, which are things that are found in the typical everyday house cat such as obesity and inflammatory bowel disease or urinary tract infection.”
An Abyssinian cat named Cinnamon was the first to have its genome sequenced, and all subsequent sequences are now compared to her genome to organize the project’s information.
Murphy said the high-quality information provided by Cinnamon’s DNA will enable researchers to see how cats vary on a genetic level.
“We have a very high quality version of the cat genome right now from Cinnamon,” Murphy said. “What that means is that most of the sequence is in a single contiguous piece on each chromosome. The idea is that we’re going to put the other 99 cats, re-sequence each of their genomes, and lay those sequences against a high quality reference to identify where they differ.”
Murphy said this should allow researchers to identify and pinpoint mutations. Even without that, Murphy said they still have all the genetic variants of a certain cat and the way that cat differs from the reference sequence.
As the amount of information grows, Murphy said the emerging database could provide a comprehensive resource that would help improve cat health in a manner similar to how the Human Genome Project increased understanding of human disease.
Murphy said the research could also be applied to understanding human diseases.
“Some of the same diseases in cats are found in humans, so in many cases, studying the same genetic disease in cats can give a better understanding of human disease as well,” Murphy said.
Funding provides a significant obstacle for the project. Lyons said data collection could cost up to $8,000 for each cat, which includes DNA preparation, library preparation, sequencing and data analysis. Lyons said she is excited that more researchers are participating and hopes the support for this project will expand outside the country.
“As we gain momentum and we tell more people about it, we hope to get as many people and universities involved,” Lyons said. “It doesn’t have to be just the USA. It can be universities from around the world.”
Brian Davis, who previously worked in Murphy’s lab, said the work done by the “99 Lives” project is not only interesting, but has relevance in relation to his current postdoc position at the National Institutes of Health.
“I’m an evolutionary geneticist, so the question of natural selection in species formation runs parallel to the question of artificial selection and breed formation,” Davis said. “Looking at breeds is one way to catch a glimpse at pre-species formation. It’s basically a way for us to look at human pressures that may or may not mirror the pressures in natural populations.”

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