GENETICS

The first pet cats were tamed by farmers in the Middle East, according to new genetic research.After comparing DNA samples from nearly 1,000 cats from different subspecies, including the Near Eastern wildcat, European wildcat, Asian wildcat, southern African wildcat, and the Chinese desert cat, an international team of scientists led by biologist Carlos Driscoll of the National Cancer Institute and the University of Oxford discovered that domesticated cats most closely resemble the wildcats now living in Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other Middle Eastern countries. The scientists believe that by about 9,500 years ago the region's earliest farmers discovered that stored grain attracted mice and that cats were good at catching mice, so they encouraged the cats to stay in the villages. When the farmers later migrated to new areas, they took their pets with them.
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BOTTOM LINE: "All domesticated cats throughout the world have a single common ancestor," Driscoll said. "Those fancy breeds that all look different, they're all variations of a cat that was domesticated in the Near East."

CAUTIONS: More samples from the Middle East would have made the study better, the scientists said, but recent political events have made collecting samples in many places, such as Iran, nearly impossible.

WHAT'S NEXT: Driscoll plans to work on the conservation of the Scottish wildcat.

1 comments

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