Feline Genome Map: Details Released as Project Continues

Data from the Cat Genome Project, headquartered at the National Cancer Institute in Maryland, will be used to understand human and feline disease. A report that details the ongoing work is published online in the November 2007 issue of Genome Research.

Although the map is not finished, researchers have discovered valuable—and usable—information, said Leslie Lyons, PhD, who has been involved in the project.

“You have to think of a genome map the same way as early maps of countries,” she said. “First the general landscape is laid out and then each section (chromosome) gets a more intense evaluation… Thus, the genetic map of the cat has many markers, but there is a lot to do.”

Although data will be used within the human medical realm first, veterinarians are excited about the possibility to prevent feline diseases in the future through the use of health management plans and breeding recommendations.

“As a practitioner, I hope that the feline genome map will enable us to identify cats… at risk for certain diseases and conditions,” said Renee Rucinsky, DVM, DABVP, medical director at the Cat Hospital Eastern Shore in Maryland. “Even if we arent treating a disease, if we know what the cat may be predisposed to we can use that knowledge to do appropriate screening that may not normally be on our radar.”

By assessing the cat genome and tracing DNA from a four-year-old Abyssinian cat named Cinnamon, researchers at the National Cancer Institute identified 250 naturally-occurring hereditary disorders also common in people.

This map, which represents three years of work, utilized data from the genome maps of the human, chimpanzee, mouse, rat, dog, and cow.

“Ultimately, it may be possible to perform genetic testing to predict which diseases a particular patient is predisposed to,” said Drew Weigner, DVM, ABVP. Test results may then allow veterinarians to modify a patients risk factors, he added. “There are at least two startup companies that propose to do this for humans, so cats may not be far behind! In essence, while decoding a cats genome has little practical application currently, the future is filled with exciting possibilities.”

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