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99 cats: Genome project could improve human and animal health


Illustration: Division of Research

A cat may have only nine lives, but it has tens of thousands of genes that determine everything from physical traits to disease susceptibility. Researchers, including a team at Texas A&M University, will work to sequence the cat genome in hopes of finding keys to better health − not only for cats, but also humans.

William Murphy, a professor at Texas A&M’s Department of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences, in the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, and his team join researchers at the University of Missouri, Cornell University and the University of California-Davis in the “99 Lives Cat Whole Genome Sequencing Initiative,” to sequence the 20,000 genes in various breeds of cats.

The term “genome” refers to all of an organism’s genetic material.

Murphy, who specializes in mammalian comparative genomics, especially feline genetics, explains that sequencing a whole genome means identifying, in order, every DNA base in the genome. “Until very recently, most of the cat genome has remained un-deciphered,” Murphy notes. “Just recently, the complete genome of a single cat was determined.”

For the 99 cats project, as the name suggests, researchers will gather 99 additional cats of diverse breeds from a wide variety of geographic locations, take DNA samples and work to sequence their genomes. This will provide a large collection of sites in the cat genome that are likely to vary within and between individual cats of all breeds as well as non-breed cats throughout the world.