Cats' Family Tree rooted in Fertile Crescent of
Middle East

In a new genetic study, researchers at the University of
California Davis, have concluded that all the ancestral
paths for the modern day domestic cat lead to the Fertile
Crescent of the Middle East which has long been identified
as a "cradle of civilization" for humans. This is the area
around the eastern end of the Mediterranean, stretching
from Turkey to northern Africa and eastward to modern
day Iraq and Iran.

The researchers collected samples of cheek cells from
more than 11,000 cats. These cats represented 17
populations of randomly bred cats from Europe, the
Mediterranean, Asia, Africa and the Americas, as well as
22 recognized breeds.

It also provides a warning for modern cat fanciers to make
sure they maintain a broad genetic base as they further
develop their breeds. More than 200 genetic disorders
have been identified in modern cats, and many are found
in pure breeds. Researchers hope that cat breeders will
use the genetic information revealed by this study to
develop efficient breed-management plans and avoid
introducing genetically linked health problems into their

The domestication of the cat originated about 5,000 to
8,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent.

Cats and their gene pools spread rapidly around the world
as ancient civilizations developed trade routes. Today,
there are 50 recognized cat breeds. Of that total, 16
breeds are thought to be "natural breeds" that occurred in
specific regions, while the remaining breeds were
developed during the past 50 years.

DNA samples of most breeds were obtained at cat shows
or were sent in upon the lab's request by cat owners.  
Genetic markers called "microsatellite markers," were used
to determine the genetic relationships of cat breeds, their
geographic origins, etc.

The researchers found that the cats were genetically
clustered in four groups that corresponded with the
regions of Europe, the Mediterranean basin, east Africa
and Asia. They discovered that randomly bred cats in the
Americas were genetically similar to randomly bred cats
from Western Europe. They also found that the Maine
coone and American shorthair -- two breeds that
originated in the United States -- were genetically similar to
the seven Western European breeds.

The study yielded many interesting breed-specific findings.
The researchers found that the Persian breed, the oldest
recognized pure breed, was not genetically associated with
randomly bred cat populations from the Near East, but  
more closely associated with randomly bred cats of
Western Europe. Further, the researchers found that, of
the Asian cat breeds, only the Japanese bobtail was
genetically clustered with Western cats.

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