Genetic study links domestic cats to wild ancestors 100,000 years ago

They were revered in ancient Egypt and are doted over in modern Britain. Now a study has revealed that the domestic cat is descended from a type of wildcat that lived in the Middle East thousands of years ago.

Scientists have traced the ancestry of all domestic cats alive today back to just five female wildcats that lived in the Fertile Crescent region of what is now Iraq and Syria. A study of feline DNA shows that cats were domesticated from their wild cousins much earlier than previously believed and that humans must have transported them around the world from their Middle Eastern homeland.

The study analysed the DNA of nearly a thousand cats - domestic and wild - from countries as far apart as China and Scotland in an attempt to identify the closest living relatives of the pet cat, Felis silvestris catus.

Scientists used both the DNA from inside the cell nucleus, which is inherited from both mothers and fathers, as well as DNA from the mitochondria structures outside the cell nucleus, which is inherited only from females. Professor David Macdonald, director of the Wildlife Conservation Unit at Oxford University, said that one of the most important findings was the discovery that domestic cats have a much older history than previously supposed.

"In our studies of mitochondrial DNA from these cats we found five distinct lineages dating back 100,000 years prior to any archaeological record of cat domestication," Professor Macdonald said.

"These appear to come from at least five female cats from the Near East whose descendants have been transported across the world by humans," he said.

A burial site in Cyprus dating to 7,500BC, with a human skeleton lying next to the skeleton of a cat, is the earliest archaeological record of feline domestication. There are no native wildcats on Cyprus so the cat must have been taken there by humans.

However, the latest DNA findings, published in the journal Science, suggest that cat domestication occurred much earlier than this and probably came about initially as a result of cats scavenging for food near human settlements. With the rise of agriculture, cats proved useful at guarding grain stores against rats and mice.

The study has also identified a genetic marker for the Scottish wildcat, which is endangered because breeding with domestic cats is diluting its gene pool. Scientists will now be able to work out how many Scottish wildcats are left.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Savvy Media Ltd: Media Sales executive - Crawley

£25k + commission + benefits: Savvy Media Ltd: Find a job you love and never h...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Solicitor NQ+ Oxford

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CORPORATE - Corporate Solicitor NQ+ An excelle...

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible