Chinese language mountain cats started swapping DNA with home cats just lately

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Wild Chinese language mountain cats aren’t the ancestors of home cats, however the two kinds of felines nonetheless swap genes. The wildcats’ DNA is inscribed on the genes of some pet cats dwelling on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, however the mixing of genetic materials extends again solely a pair dozen generations, researchers report on-line June 23 in Science Advances.

Cats and people have lived collectively in China for a minimum of 5,300 years, but earlier genetic research on feline domestication hadn’t included DNA from East Asian cats (SN: 12/17/13). So researchers questioned whether or not the mountain cats (Felis silvestris bieti or Felis bieti) had ever contributed to Chinese language pets’ genes. Sure, the group discovered, however the quick size of time mountain cats and housecats have been mating suggests Chinese language home cats have their origins elsewhere, most likely within the Center East (SN: 6/19/17).

Shu-Jin Luo, a geneticist at Peking College in Beijing, and her colleagues got here to that conclusion after they in contrast DNA from 27 Chinese language mountain cats, 239 Chinese language home cats and 4 Asiatic wildcats. The researchers didn’t encounter the elusive Chinese language mountain cats within the wild; as an alternative, they took samples from museum pelts, roadkill carcasses and zoo animals. The group did accumulate samples from the home cats, nonetheless. Rural Chinese language cats come and go as they please, so “Oh, he’s not dwelling but, so we’ll look ahead to [an] hour” grew to become a well-known chorus, Luo recollects.

Evaluation confirmed that the pet cats’ DNA carried traces of mountain cat genetics as much as 30 generations in the past. The reason being “truly fairly obvious, however no person thought of it earlier than,” Luo says. Home cats arrived on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau within the Nineteen Fifties, almost definitely introduced there by Han Chinese language migrants. Census knowledge present human inhabitants spikes within the area 70 years in the past, coinciding with the earliest indicators of hybridization of the wild and home cats, Luo says.

Most wild-domestic cat hybrids (one proven) haven’t any outward indicators of mountain cat genes lurking of their DNA. However refined ear tufts trace at this pet’s wildcat heritage — and his DNA confirmed it.Meng Hao

Pet cats’ Y chromosomes maintain clues about these encounters, carrying genes that may enter the gene pool solely by mountain cat fathers. Male Chinese language mountain cats appear to sneak into villages and mate with feminine housecats, not the opposite method round, Luo says. However her group isn’t simply trying on the cats’ genetics to grasp their historical past. In Scotland, the genetic distinctiveness of European wildcats has been almost worn out by breeding with feral cats. Luo and her colleagues suspected they may discover related results in Chinese language mountain cats.

The group didn’t detect home cats infiltrating mountain cat populations. However that doesn’t imply it isn’t occurring. With extra DNA samples, future work could reveal genes are already flowing each methods. “I’m not satisfied that that is getting in just one route,” says Eva-Maria Geigl, a paleogeneticist at CNRS in Paris.

Fashionable interbreeding might threaten Chinese language mountain cat conservation in the long term. Home cats’ genes might dilute or override traits that make mountain cats nicely tailored to excessive altitudes, Luo says.

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