A team at the University of Missouri, led by renowned feline researcher and associate professor Leslie Lyons, will map the genes of 99 cats. The project will map 20,000 genes to develop a complete portrait of feline genetic make up.
The 99 Lives Whole Cat Genome Sequencing Initiative could help identify the cause of cats’ fur and eye color, and, more importantly, the source of feline health problems. It could even support research on diseases that affect both cats and humans. “When a sick cat comes along, you could genetically sequence it and say, ‘Hey, look, this has a variation we’ve never seen before,’ ” Lyons told the San Francisco Chronicle. “It might give us clues very quickly as to what genes to focus on for this cat’s health care.”
The project is a collaborative effort between researchers at the University of Missouri, Cornell University, Texas A&M, and UC Davis. Using samples from cats around the world that have been spayed or neutered, researchers will extract DNA from leftover ovaries, uteruses and testicles. Sequencing all 99 cats will create a mindboggling amount of data: 168 terabytes (1 terabyte is 1000 gigabites)!
The data will be uploaded into a cloud-based website that will allow anyone to view, search and annotate it. This will allow researchers from around the world to access the data. Niels Pederson, a UC Davis professor emeritus who helped with the sequencing, is trying to better understand the genetic causes of FIP (feline infectious peritonitis,) a fatal illness in cats. “Using the tools we had at the time, we can see that there are some genetic factors that might be important,” Piedersen told SF Gate. “To really define them … we really need to move to the whole genome sequencing.”
Research into feline disease is notoriously underfunded, which is why it is exciting to see a project of this magnitude that could have beneficial effects on so many feline health issues. The project is partially funded by Winn Feline Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports studies to improve cats’ health. Additional funding was provided by Zoetis and Procter & Gamble.
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