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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 November 2007, 15:25 GMT
Cat joins exclusive genome club
Image: National Cancer Institute/University of Missouri-Columbia/PA Wire
Cinnamon lives in a cat colony at the University of Missouri-Columbia
A pedigree cat called Cinnamon has made scientific history by becoming the first feline to have its DNA decoded.

The domestic cat now joins the select club of mammals whose genome has been deciphered - including dogs, chimps, rats, mice, cows and people.

The genome map is expected to shed light on both feline and human disease.

Cats get hundreds of illnesses similar to human ones, including a feline version of HIV, known as FIV, and a hereditary form of blindness.

Cinnamon, a four-year-old Abyssinian cat, is descended from lab cats bred to develop retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease, also found in humans, which can lead to blindness.

Earlier this year, with the help of the sequence, scientists found the gene change, or mutation, that causes the condition in cats.

One thing I'd like to discover is the genes for good behaviour in the cats
Dr Stephen O'Brien

Analysis of the cat genome sequence could also shed light on everything from evolution to the origins of feline domestication, they say.

"We can start to interpret them in terms of one of evolution's special creations, which is also probably one of the greatest predators that ever lived," said Dr Stephen O'Brien of the US National Cancer Institute, who spearheaded the project.

Like other mammals, the cat has around 20,000 genes. By comparing its genome - the genes that build and maintain the body - to those of other mammals, researchers can study differences in biology, evolution and behaviour.

"One thing I'd like to discover is the genes for good behaviour in the cats - the genes for domestication, the things that make them not want to kill our children but play with them," he added.

Missing info

Cats are among the 26 mammals chosen by the National Human Genome Research Institute in the US for less complete or "light" genome sequencing.

An organism's full package of DNA is called its genome
Cats, like people, have nearly 3 billion building blocks
Identifying the order of these blocks is known as decoding, or sequencing, a genome

Scientists use the so-called "shot-gun" sequencing method, where DNA is extracted, chopped into pieces, sequenced, and then pieced back together again.

It has yielded a rough version of the cat genome, including around 60% of Cinnamon's DNA "letters" with many gaps in between.

A more complete version, expected next year, will be used to make more detailed comparisons with other animals.

Findings from the project, which cost more than $2.4 million, are published in the journal Genome Research.

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