The subject of the domestication of cats has fascinated a team of researchers who scrutinised the genomes of both domestic cats and wild felines for comparison purposes to yield an answer to their question. Cats are semi-domesticated. They are said to have come from wild cats only recently; some of the cats can even breed with the wild ones. It was therefore surprising that their DNA held evidence of their domestication.
Cats have lived among humans for centuries; it is estimated that humans chose them as companions since 9000 years. The authors of the study suggested that the link between humans and cats might be because of the latter’s ability to control rodent populations. The researchers formulated the hypothesis that humans would offer the cats rewards for getting rid of the rodents. Throughout this time, it seems that the genome changed allowing for cat domestication.
The DNA of purebreds and domestic cat breeds were put under the microscope, and compared with the whole genome of the domestic cat Felis silvestris catus.
The results of the study put into perspective the genes for fear, rewards, fat metabolism and hearing. The evidence generated showed relatively new selection in the genes associated with fear-conditioning and stimulus-reward learning. The authors of the study explained that to become tamer, the cats must have grown to be less fearful of new environments and humans. Additionally, upon getting into contact with the latter, they might have been given rewards for them to stay in their new surroundings – a give-and-take relationship was probably set up: cat kills rat for human, human gives cat food.
Another aspect of the results of comparing the genomes is that the genes needed for the breaking down of fats changed at a fast rate from tigers to cats. This might be evidence of how cats were able to digest their hypercarnivorous diets.
The hearing capacity of cats are also engraved on their DNA: the researchers identified the genes that evolved to broaden their hearing range such that cats are able to hear in the ultrasonic range.