University of Missouri study helps pinpoint feline genetics that led to the first-ever domestication of cats

A new study at the University of Missouri found this lifestyle transition for humans was the...
A new study at the University of Missouri found this lifestyle transition for humans was the catalyst that sparked the world’s first domestication of cats, and as humans began to travel the world, they brought their new feline friends along with them.(Doug Brown)
Published: Dec. 5, 2022 at 12:18 PM CST
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MISSOURI. (KFVS) -Nearly 10,000 years ago, humans settling in the Fertile Crescent developed close bonds with the rodent-eating cats that conveniently served as ancient pest-control in society’s first civilizations after they made the first switch from hunter-gatherers to farmers.

A new study at the University of Missouri found this lifestyle transition for humans was the catalyst that sparked the world’s first domestication of cats, and as humans began to travel the world, they brought their new feline friends along with them.

According to a release from the university, Leslie A. Lyons, a feline geneticist and Gilbreath-McLorn endowed professor of comparative medicine in the MU College of Veterinary Medicine, collected and analyzed DNA from cats in and around the Fertile Crescent area, as well as throughout Europe, Asia and Africa, comparing nearly 200 different genetic markers.

“One of the DNA main markers we studied were microsatellites, which mutate very quickly and give us clues about recent cat populations and breed developments over the past few hundred years,” Lyons said. “Another key DNA marker we examined were single nucleotide polymorphisms, which are single-based changes all throughout the genome that give us clues about their ancient history several thousands of years ago. By studying and comparing both markers, we can start to piece together the evolutionary story of cats.”

According to Lyons in the release, while horses and cattle have seen various domestication events caused by humans in different parts of the world at various times, her analysis of feline genetics in the study strongly supports the theory that cats were likely first domesticated only in the Fertile Crescent before migrating with humans all over the world.

After feline genes are passed down to kittens throughout generations, the genetic makeup of cats in western Europe, for example, is now far different from cats in southeast Asia, a process known as “isolation by distance.”

More information on the study can be found here.