Feline Genetics

A cat named Cinnamon helps researchers identify novel gene for dwarfism

A new, improved map of the domestic cat genome (genetic material) developed by feline research teams at the University of Missouri and Texas A&M University is helping confirm existing gene variants and new candidate genes underlying diseases in cats. The 94 million cats in the United States suffer from many of the same diseases as people, but scientists don’t generally have the depth of genetic tools necessary to develop new tests and treatments for cats.

To help correct this deficit, a team of researchers developed a new, high-quality genome sequence from an Abyssinian cat named Cinnamon, which greatly improves the ability to identify more complex DNA variants that cause diseases.

They used 54 additional cat genomes from the 99 Lives Cat Genome Project (a group effort to better understand feline genetics) and compared them to Cinnamon’s genome to identify genetic variations possibly causing disease. One of their discoveries was a gene disruption that had not previously been linked to dwarfism in humans and may, in rarer cases, be involved in the human form of the condition.

The new high-quality cat genome, and the genetic variants it has helped uncover, demonstrate the value of this resource for discovering genetic explanations of diseases in domestic cats. In future work, the team plans to expand the use of precision genomic medicine for cats using this resource and others, which could provide veterinarians with more informative genetic screening, earlier disease detection and improved therapeutic options that will give better outcomes with fewer side effects.

In addition, wildlife conservation research and investigations into how cats came to be domesticated and split into different breeds could also benefit from the new genome.

Buckley, R.B. et al. A new domestic cat genome assembly based on long sequence reads empowers feline genomic medicine and identifies a novel gene for dwarfism. PLOS Genetics, 2020; 16 (10): e1008926 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1008926