Wild to Domesticated
The wild ancestors of today’s domestic cats were solitary creatures. The furry felines in our homes may seem a bit aloof, but they are more social than their early relatives. Exactly when cats became domesticated is not quite clear. We do know that genetically they are still very close to their wild relatives.
The domestication process may have started as long as 9,000 years ago when farming became part of the human lifestyle. Researchers speculate that felines were attracted to farms by the plentiful rodent populations that gathered to feast on stored grain. Farmers appreciated the rodent control so they tolerated the cats. They may have even given them extra bits of food. However, it doesn’t appear that humans actually domesticated them.
The most popular thought is that cats were self-domesticated. They became accustomed to living around humans on farms and in towns where they hunted rodents and other vermin. Cats simply became contented with domestic life.
The process of co-existing or domestication obviously continued. Egyptian wall art, dating back 4,000 years, depicts cats cavorting with humans. Cats were apparently domesticated and revered by the Egyptians. They even worshiped a feline goddess called Bastet.
The appeal of cats continues today. They are currently the most popular pet in the world. That is interesting since there are only about 40 breeds of cat to choose from compared to about 400 recognized dog breeds. There is a reason there are many breeds of dogs. Over time, dogs have been bred to perform specific jobs for humans. People wanted dogs to herd, hunt, guard, or to do any number of other jobs that made human life easier.
Humans have not made such an impact on the genetics of cats. Our feline friends were bred primarily for coat color and pattern. A set of genes thought to be associated with tameness has also been influenced, but cats have not been bred to work. People obviously do not choose a cat as a pet so they can perform a certain job. People choose a cat as a pet simply because they want a cat in their life.
Cats Genome Study
If cats and dogs are so different in the type of companionship they offer, one wonders just how closely related felines are to dogs and other species. Wes Warren, Ph.D. of the Genome Institute at Washington University gave us the answer. He mapped the genome of Cinnamon, an Abyssinian cat, and compared her genetic sequences to those of the tiger, cow, dog and human.
It is not too surprising that Cinnamon’s DNA was distinctly different from that of the cow, dog, and human. However, Warren found that the kitty curled on your couch has only about 13 genes that differ from those of a tiger. This preliminary evidence suggests that today’s domestic feline has a genetic profile quite similar to their counterparts that live in the wild. Perhaps there is a tiger in your tabby.
Domestic cats are quite different than their early ancestors. Yet, similarities remain. Today’s furry felines may be a bit aloof, but they do not maintain a solitary lifestyle like their predecessors. Our household pets form social networks with us and other cats and even dogs in the family. That is interesting since today’s domestic kitty has a genetic profile that closely resembles that of a tiger, a cat that still lives in the wild.
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