THURSDAY, July 29, 2021 (HealthDay News) – Dogs may be man’s best friend, but cats can be important keys to human health.
Our feline friends have the potential to become a valuable model for genetic research because their genome is similar to that of humans, according to Leslie Lyons of the Feline Genetics Laboratory at the University of Missouri at Columbia.
“The use of cats in research is really being overlooked as people fail to see the benefits,” Lyons said.
Dogs or mice have altered chromosomes that are very different from humans, but a domestic cat’s genes are about the same size as humans and their entire set of DNA is similar, she explained.
Cats could also help researchers better understand what is known as “dark matter” in humans, which makes up 95% of human DNA. Although dark matter has long been viewed as filling information, recent research has shown that its role is more important. Cats have genetic diseases that result from the dysfunction of their dark matter.
The new study was published July 28 in the journal Trends in Genetics.
“If we discover that animals may have similar spacing between genes and that the genes are in the same order, that may help us decipher what is going on with humans,” Lyons said in a press release. “Working with a primate is expensive, but the affordability and docile nature of a cat make it one of the most suitable animals for understanding the human genome.”
Humans have also cloned cats and have the technology to create transgenic cats – those that have been artificially created using one or more DNA sequences from another species.
Interestingly, the first cat clone defied basic genetics because its coat color did not match that of its cell donor – an indication to the researchers that something unexpected was happening in the clone’s genes.
Cats could also play a role in precision medicine in genetic diseases. Researchers fix a gene instead of treating symptoms. Certain breeds of cats are prone to the genetic disease polycystic kidney disease, which also affects humans, and researchers could apply what they learned in cats to human diseases, Lyons noted.
The US National Human Genome Research Institute has more about the human genome.
SOURCE: Cell Press, press release, July 28, 2021