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Scientists set out to map the whole genome of cats

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The 99 Lives Cat Whole Genome Sequencing Initiative is setting out to sequence the genome of not one but 99 cats. Sequencing the genome of one cat and studying that sequence disregards the significant amount of genetic differences between individuals. Integrating the genomic information derived from 99 cats will enable scientists to preserve the heterogeneity present between cats to create a genetic portrait that represents a population of cats rather than a single individual.

Maintaining genetic heterogeneity or diversity while sequencing the cat’s genome is important because cats belong to different racial populations. There are about 12 different races of cats with distinct genetic variations. Although the overall genomic information is similar between cats, there are genetic differences in cats from the UK versus those from Egypt or Southeast Asia.

Information derived from the study may have implications for both cats and humans. The genetic variation present between cats can enable researchers to pinpoint mutations or genetic differences that make some cats more susceptible to devastating diseases such as polycystic kidney disease, feline infectious peritonitis and inflammatory bowel disease. Identifying the genes implicated in diseases shared between humans and cats such as inflammatory bowel disease and polycystic kidney disease can expand our collective knowledge of these diseases with the goal of improving treatment, detection and prevention.

The project is a collaboration between University of Missouri, Cornell University, Texas A&M University and UC Davis. Leading the project is Dr. Leslie Lyons, a former UC Davis professor who now works at the University of Missouri. Funding comes from Zoetis, an animal health company, the Winn Feline Foundation, a cat nonprofit and the pet food company Procter and Gamble. Mapping the genome of each cat will cost about $8000 and generate 168 terabytes. The data will be uploaded into a cloud-based website operated by Maverix Biomics, that will allow anyone to view and annotate it.

Sequencing and interpreting the genome of 99 cats is a tremendous step towards preserving heterogeneity within a species, which can be lost when the information within a single individual’s genome is made available. The collective information from 99 cats may be explored to identify genetic differences that cause cat health problems as well as the genetic basis of cat color and markings.

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