Cats Are So Not Appreciated. Think Again.
Leslie Lyons is a veterinarian and specialist in feline genetics. She’s also a cat owner and general supporter of cats who is known to tease her colleagues who study canine genetics with the well-worn adage that “Cats rule.” The dogs drool.
This has not been the case with the research money and the attention paid to disease genetics in cats and dogs, in part because the number of dog breeds offers variety in terms of genetic diseases. and perhaps because of a general bias in favor of dogs. But Dr. Lyons, a professor at the University of Missouri, says there are many reasons why cats and their illnesses are invaluable models for human illness. She championed the cause of feline science this week in an article in Trends in Genetics.
“People tend to like them or hate them, and cats are often underestimated by the scientific community,” she writes. But, she says, in some ways the organization of the cat genome is very similar to the human genome, and cat genomics could help understand the large amount of mammalian DNA that is not genes and is poorly understood. .
Among the advances in veterinary medicine that have benefited humans, she pointed out that remdesivir, an important drug in the fight against Covid, was first used successfully against cat disease caused by another coronavirus. .
She is the director of the 99 Lives Cat Genome Sequencing Initiative and as part of this project she and a group of colleagues including Wes Warren at the University of Missouri and William Murphy at Texas A&M University recently produced the genome. the most detailed cat to date, which surpasses the dog genome.
“At the moment,” Dr. Lyons said.
I spoke last week with Dr Lyons, Dr Warren and Dr Murphy, who refer to themselves as Team Feline. Dr Lyons was visiting Texas and along with two of her colleagues she explained why cat genomes are important to medical knowledge.
I’m reporting on animal science, and over the years I’ve admitted to Team Feline members, I seem to have written more about dogs than cats. The dog-cat rivalry in genomics science is primarily a good-humored rivalry, but just to assess what I was getting myself into, I first asked about scientists’ unscientific approach to cats and cats. dogs.
The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
First, their personal preferences:
Dr. William Murphy: I have cats and dogs as pets, but I prefer cats.
Dr. Wes Warren: I am a dog owner. I am unfortunately allergic to cats.
Dr Leslie Lyons: He has a very dear dog who continues to have problems.
Why were you moved to write the article promoting the cause of cat science?
Dr Lyon: Throughout my career I have tried to make people understand that our everyday pets have the same illnesses we do and can really provide important information if we can figure out what makes them function a little better. , how their genomes are constructed.
Do you have high quality genomes from several cat species beyond the domestic cat?
Dr Lyon: We already have the lions and the tigers, the Asian leopard cat, Geoffroy’s cat, half a dozen species with very, very good genomes which are even better than the genomes of dogs today.
Dr. Murphy: From afar. It was in fact of better quality than the reference human genome until very recently. The goal is to have the complete encyclopedia of the cat’s DNA, so that we can truly fully understand the genetic basis of all of the cat’s traits.
Dr Lyon: For example, the allergy gene that Wes is allergic to. We fully understand this gene now. Maybe we can even get it out of the cat to produce more hypoallergenic cats or at least figure out what triggers the immune response best.
How are cat diseases a good model for human diseases?
Dr Lyon: What we are finding is that different species have different health issues. We should really choose the right species.
Dr Warren: We know that dogs get cancer more frequently, just like us. Cats don’t often get cancer. And it’s a fascinating story of evolution. So are there any signals or clues in the cat’s genome that allow us to better understand why cats get certain types of cancer and to understand the differences between dogs, cats and humans.
What about the cats that are the subject of the research?
Dr Lyon: Genomic research is fantastic because maybe all we need is a blood sample. And so once we have the blood sample, we don’t have to do an animal experiment. We are actually looking at what animals already have. We work with the diseases that already exist.
What about wild species?
Dr. Murphy: High-quality genomes for feral cats can aid their species’ survival plans and their recovery in the wild.
Dr Lyon: We see half a dozen health problems in wild felines. We have a study on transitional cell carcinoma in fishing cats, hereditary blindness in black-footed cats, polycystic kidney disease in Pallas cats. Snow leopards have terrible eye problems, possibly due to inbreeding in zoos. So understanding their genomes can help us put an end to these problems in zoo populations, and it will also help humans under the same conditions.
What about ancient DNA and cats? There has been a lot of work on this in dogs. How does it evolve in cats?
Dr Lyon: Some groups are moving forward with ancient DNA. I have worked on cat mummies and we have shown that the types of mitochondrial DNA that we have found in mummified cats are more present today in Egyptian cats than anywhere else. Thus, the cats of the pharaohs are the cats of the Egyptians today.
To change gears: I have always been a fan of dogs but I thought about taking a cat. Advices ?
Dr Lyon: Get two. They will be friends. And give them something to scratch. Otherwise, it will be your sofa.