for National Geographic News
The first "rough draft" genome for the domestic cat has been sequenced by an international team of scientists.
The new sequence is based on the DNA of a four-year-old Abyssinian named Cinnamon, a purebred cat whose lineage can be traced for several generations.
The female animal yielded about 65 percent of the cat genome, which is now thought to contain 20,285 genes. By contrast, the human genome is believed to hold between 20,000 and 25,000 genes.
"[Cinnamon] 'volunteered' to have her genome sequenced so that we could understand [more about] the details of what makes a cat a cat," said study co-author Stephen O'Brien of the National Cancer Institute's Laboratory of Genomic Diversity in Frederick, Maryland.
In addition to shedding light on feline evolution, researchers hope that the cat genome may help in the fight against several human diseases.
(Related news: "Macaque Genome Deciphered; May Herald Medical Breakthroughs" [April 12, 2007].)
That's because the genetic similarities between cats and people make the common feline a good model for medical studies.
Understanding the cat genome may help scientists find the genetic variants that cause diseases such as leukemia and the degenerative eye disease retinitis pigmentosa—which Cinnamon currently suffers.
Studies of infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, which has a closely related counterpart in cats, may also get a boost from the sequenced genome.
Adam Felsenfeld is a researcher with the National Human Genome Research Institute in Bethesda, Maryland. Although he was not a study author, his institute was involved with the project.
According to Felsenfeld, the latest cat study—which appears in the current issue of the journal Genome Research—is part of a larger effort to capture rough outlines of 24 new mammal genomes.
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