What Your Cat’s DNA Can Tell You

I want to ask my cat Herbert about 10 million questions. “Why are you chewing my purse?” “Why do you get scared when I am hand lotion?” “Do you love me?” “You hate me?” However, at the very top of the list is: “Can you tell me your life story?” Bert was captured from a street in Harlem a few years ago and taken to an orphanage where I adopted him, but I don’t know anything about him before. And like any overly attached, codependent pet parent, I would like to understand him in every sense: intellectually, emotionally, spiritually – and even at the cellular level. The first three will always be somewhat elusive, but now is 2018, the future has already arrived, and I found a company to help me with the fourth.

Basepaws is a genetic testing company for cats. It was founded in 2016 and recently released the results of its first round of testing, which included Burt’s DNA data. If you’re interested in testing your feline too, here’s a little about how the process works.

You order CatKit ($ 95), which supplies you with all the tools you need to provide Basepaws with your kitten’s DNA samples. My particular kit included a swab to collect cells from the cheeks and a tape to collect hair, but Basepaws has since discarded this specimen of saliva, with the exception of hairless cats. (Hair seems to be better for testing and better for cats that don’t need the occasional stick in their mouth.)

After collecting all of his samples, we sent them to the Basepaws laboratory in Los Angeles and began to await the results. We, the members of the first group, had to be patient: it took about seven months to get the results. The expected waiting time is slightly less now (they estimate it to be between two and six months ), but if you’re planning on embarking on this journey it’s probably best to think of it as a small long-term investment. For instant gratification, order toys for your cat.

Through its testing, Basepaws aims to cover multiple areas of DNA-related information – such as health, parentage, trait prediction (could they be catnip addicts? What can their genetics tell you about their physical characteristics?) And well-being. But since the company is new and the genetic tests are only as good as their database, the first Alpha report contained only a breed report and a wildcat report. Subsequent updates will automatically appear in my Basepaws profile. Here’s what they could tell me about Bertha:

Breed index

According to the breed index, Herbert’s DNA doesn’t match very well with any of the 24 purebred cats currently in the database (sounds roughly correct), which means he is a domesticated (or perhaps – although unlikely – an untested breed ). However, it has more DNA in common with the Lapermies, American Shorthair and British Shorthair cats than with the average domestic cat, which I did not expect. While none of this is shocking, it’s interesting to imagine what kind of cats could compose his family tree. It’s kind of like when you make your 23andme and find out that yes, you are Irish and English, but also Scandinavian and Welsh.

Wildcat Index

This is where it gets a little more … wild. The Basepaws Alpha Report also compares Bert’s DNA to that of 18 different wild cats, and appears to be an undercover cougar.

Unfortunately, this does not mean that Bert’s great-great-grandfather was a cougar. As Basepaws writes on its website , that your cat’s DNA is more similar to that of a cougar or ocelot is most likely the result of an accident: “Your cat’s ancestors just accidentally inherited more DNA in common with their wild cat relative than they did it. other cats. “

However, it is possible that one of Bert’s ancestors was actually a wild cat, and he was a product of interspecies love, and this is a story I will probably tell myself and everyone who listens.

As the Basepaws database continues to grow, the results I have now will continue to change and become more accurate. Since I was one of the first to buy CatKit and donate my cat’s DNA, co-founder and CEO Anna Skaia told me that these updates will last a lifetime – news on things like genetic predisposition to disease, dietary advice, and personality prediction. … This offer is still valid for new CatKit customers – for now. Over time, new members will have to pay to get more information about their cat when it becomes available.

Skaia says that in the long term, the company hopes to gain information about the health of pets and apply their genetic discoveries to things like diagnostics in veterinary offices or as part of adoption information at animal shelters. In the longer term, they hope to apply what they’ve learned about feline genetics to human health. It may sound strange, but cats actually share about90 percent of our genes (ahem, that’s more than dogs, although dogs tend to get more scientific attention ), which means cats can be a good model to understand. diseases in humans. It also helps that when it comes to cats, there are no privacy concerns.

In the meantime, Basepaws’ genetic testing is gradually revealing the secrets of domestic cats like Bert, and we, in turn, are helping to create a biobank that can help both kittens and humans in the future.

“Your cat can’t talk to you, but you can get into its DNA and learn a lot about it,” Skaia said.

I will continue to ask Bert all the questions I have for him, but until we speak the same language, the stories in his genetic code help me fill in the gaps.


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