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Cat genes give disease clues

6th November 2007

Scientists in the United States have completed the genetic mapping of a domestic cat, unveiling some key features which could help research into new cures for human diseases.

cat

The cat genome was mapped from a pedigree Abyssinian cat, and is already shedding light on a common cause of blindness in humans.

It may in time yield insights into AIDS and other diseases affecting the immune system, researchers reported in the journal Genome Research.

And the cat genome shows some surprising qualities that cats and humans appear to have uniquely in common, stemming from a common ancestor from which placental mammals evolved after the extinction of the dinosaurs.

The cat, Cinnamon, was bred specially to develop retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease which causes blindness.

A study of her genes could yield more knowledge of the condition, and eventually lead to new treatments.

Cats are the only animals besides humans who naturally become sick from immune deficiency viruses. People get HIV, which causes AIDS, while the feline immunodeficiency virus or FIV causes a similar disease in cats.

Cats have delivered important clues to the causes of human diseases in the past. The discovery of feline leukemia virus in the 1960s led scientists to realise that viruses can cause cancer.

The cat has around 20,000 genes, a number common to most mammals. Much of the DNA is made up of non-coding regions of DNA.

Other completed genomes with which to compare it are the human, the chimpanzee, the mouse, the rat, the dog and the cow.

Mammals share a common ancestor, a tiny, shrewlike creature that survived the dinosaur extinction. The order of genes in a cat is remarkably similar to that of this ancestor. Humans also share more obvious genetic similarities with the cat than with other mammals.

 

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