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Veterinary Forum December 2007 (Vol 24, No 12)

Domestic cat genome sequenced

    FREDERICK, MD.— A report that appears in the journal Genome Research details the first assembly, annotation and comparative analysis of the domestic cat genome, according to a press release.

    The DNA of a 4-year-old Abyssinian cat named Cinnamon, with a well-documented lineage that can be traced back several generations to Sweden, has been sequenced. Cinnamon is one of several mammals that are being analyzed using "light" (two-fold) genome sequence coverage.

    To make sense of Cinnamon's raw sequence data, a multicenter collaboration of scientists leveraged information from previously sequenced mammalian genomes as well as previous gene-mapping studies in the cat. In doing so, they found that Cinnamon's sequences spanned about 65% of the euchromatic (gene-containing) regions of the feline genome.

    Similarities and differences

    The similarity between the cat genome and six recently completed mammalian genomes (human, chimpanzee, mouse, rat, dog and cow) allowed the scientists to identify 20,285 putative genes in the cat genome. The comparison also revealed hundreds of chromosomal rearrangements that have occurred among the different lineages of mammals since they diverged from an ancestor that lived 100 million years ago.

    The genome sequence analysis is expected to lead to health benefits for domestic cats, 90 million of which are owned by Americans, according to The Humane Society of the United States. The domestic cat also serves as an excellent model for human disease, which is one reason why the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) initially authorized the cat genome sequencing project three years ago.

    Domestic cats possess more than 250 naturally occurring hereditary disorders, many of which are similar to genetic pathologies in humans. For example, Cinnamon's pedigree carries a genetic mutation that causes retinitis pigmentosa. In humans, retinitis pigmentosa affects 1 in 3,500 Americans. The domestic cat also serves as an excellent model for human infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS. FIV is a genetic relative of the human HIV, which causes AIDS.

    The researchers also analyzed the feline genome for interesting features, such as microRNAs, Numts (pronounced "new mights") — nuclear genomic fragments that migrated to cat chromosomes from mitochondria — and a vast sea of selfish DNA-like repetitive elements.

    The Cat Genome Project is based at the National Cancer Institute in Frederick, Md. Cinnamon lives in a cat colony maintained at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

    NEXT: Editor's Note: A tale of two clinics
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