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.

Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
tech
News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
books(and not a Buzzfeed article in sight)
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Mystery man: Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in '‘Gone Girl'
films... by the director David Fincher
News
Kim Jong Un gives field guidance during his inspection of the Korean People's Army (KPA) Naval Unit 167
newsSouth Korean reports suggest rumours of a coup were unfounded
News
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Travel
Bruce Chatwin's novel 'On the Black Hill' was set at The Vision Farm
travelOne of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
Arts and Entertainment
Gay and OK: a scene from 'Pride'
filmsUS film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
News
people
Life and Style
Magic roundabouts: the gyratory system that has excited enthusiasts in Swindon
motoringJust who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Arts and Entertainment
You could be in the Glastonbury crowd next summer if you follow our tips for bagging tickets this week
music
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

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Technology Teacher (Resistant Materials and Graphics)

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: We are urgently looking fo...

SEN Teacher

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you an SEN Teacher loo...

Nursery Assistant Plymouth

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd are seeking Nu...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?