For Christmas, my husband ordered a DNA test for me. I was delighted! Geno 2.0 by National Geographic allows me to tap deep into my ancestral history, way beyond historical records, photos and family tales.
My cheek swab may even tell me if I am part Neanderthal — nearly all people of European descent show genetic traces of at least one 60,000 year-old sexual rondez-vous between a Homo sapien and a Neanderthal! I find this little fact to be quite scandalous — and titillating!
So as I await the results of my cheek swab, I wonder about the ancestry of my other family members, including our three cats. It just so happens that my curiosity about my cats can be satisfied by a similar genetic test being offered at the the University of California’s Feline Genetics Laboratory. The $120 Cat Ancestry test will tell you if your beloved feline companion descends from one of 29 major fancy cat breeds.
The lab tests for specific nucleotide polymorphisms and generates a profile. Your cat’s profile is then compared to a global database of cat profiles to see which geographical origin of cat it shares the most variants with.
While there are eight feline populations of origin, the majority of breeds can be traced back to Egypt, South Asia, the Eastern Mediterranean and Western Europe. The other areas include Iran/Iraq, Arabian Sea, India, and East Asia. Worldwide, about 60 cat breeds are officially recognized, with 29 breeds dominating the American landscape. Most cats, however, are not purebreds, as the majority of cats have their own ideas about who will make a good mate. Nevertheless, many domestic house cats boast one or more royal fur lines.
The Feline Genetics lab test is 90 percent accurate, however, a truly mixed-breed cat, will not match to specific breeds. Thus, the test is most useful if you suspect royal fur lines and would like to have those fur lines confirmed. For example, our “Maine Coon” cat Sushi is, as far as we know, not a purebred (he certainly does not have any pedigreed papers, although by the way he acts, you would think he did!), but anyone who knows the Maine Coon breed always comments on how ‘royal” he looks and acts.
Our other two cats, Mr. Mittens and Riki Tiki Tabby, are clearly from lineages that enjoyed many indiscriminate romantic trysts in the woods or in an urban alley way. If you have a truly mixed breed cat, the test is still useful as it will shed light on which part of the world his/her ancestors romped, purred and coughed-up hairballs.
The database was designed and launched by the appropriately named, Dr. Leslie Lyons, who collected DNA samples from felines worldwide, specifically at cat shows sponsored by the Cat Fancier’s Association and the International Cat Association. National Geographic highlighted Dr. Lyon’s innovative work in their recent documentary, The Science of Cats.
Actually after writing this post, I am now even more curious about Sushi’s lineage and I think I will order the test. When I get the results back of both my test and Sushi’s (about 8 weeks for both), I will share with you the results — as long as you promise not to laugh if I turn out to be 10% Neanderthal!