If the dead mouse in your slipper wasn’t proof enough your cat is a ferocious mini-tiger, a new study shows the genome of the common house cat is not all that different from its wild brethren.
Scientists at Washington University in St. Louis recently sequenced the genome of an Abyssinian cat named Cinnamon, and compared the genome to humans, dogs, cows, tigers, and another cat breed known as the Birman, and found that your cat is probably still half-wild.
“We believe we have created the first preliminary evidence that depicts domestic cats as not that far removed from wildcat populations,” said senior author Wes Warren, an associate professor of genomics at the Genome Institute at Washington University, in St. Louis.
The fact that domesticated cats aren’t all that different from their wild cousins isn’t actually that surprising. Unlike dogs, who have been kept as human companions for over 30,000 years, cats only began to live with humans 9,000 years ago, and often bred with wild cats. It’s only in the last 200 years that humans have begun to practice intense genetic selection on house cats, breeding for coat types or favorable behavior traits like tameness and adorable faces you just wanna snuggle.
The most important trait found in the genome, according to Warren, was a reward-seeking one.
“Humans most likely welcomed cats because they controlled rodents that consumed their grain harvests,” said Warren. “We hypothesized that humans would offer cats food as a reward to stick around.”
So when your cat refuses to go to the vet even when you try to trick it with salmon treats, it’s showing a survival instinct genetically inherited from its wild ancestors. (And clearly not inherited by my dog, who would eat gravel if there was peanut butter on it.)
No word yet on whether scientists have identified the trait that makes cats sit on your face at 5 AM.
[h/t LA Times]