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Cats: DNA testing identifies markers for disease

In what researchers call the largest-ever study of domestic cat DNA, new research suggests genetic variants linked to disease in felines are present in more pedigreed breeds than previously thought.

Researchers genotyped more than 11,000 domestic cats, pedigreed and non-pedigreed cats, for blood type, disease, genetic traits and physical appearance using commercial DNA tests.

The results, published in the journal PLOS Genetics on Thursday, suggest that there are 13 genetic variants associated with disease present in 47 pedigreed breeds that were not previously known. In comparison, researchers identified three genetic variants linked with disease in the non-pedigreed subjects. Overall, researchers found more genetic diversity in non-pedigreed cats than in pedigreed cats.

The results of the testing also showed that while there may be more variants associated with disease than we were previously aware of, it also showed that the frequency of these variants has declined.

The genetic variant PKD1, linked to Polycystic Kidney Disease and previously believed to affect around 40 per cent of Persian cats, was found in none of the Persian cats in the study – but was found in some Maine Coons and Scottish Straights.

In the study, researchers suggest that “DNA testing has been effectively used to reduce disease associated variants within certain pedigreed cat populations over time.”

When it comes to appearances, researchers found that genetic markers also determine specific physical traits across breeds. For example, the same markers for coat colours and patterns found in Siamese cats and Colorpoints were present and responsible for similar colouring in other breeds.

The study’s authors said this kind of large-scale research into identifying genetic markers can support breeders and veterinarians in their care for cats.

“Direct-to-consumer genetic tests help to raise awareness of various inherited single gene conditions in cats and provide information that owners can share with their veterinarians,” the authors wrote in the study. “In due course, ventures of this type will enable the genetics of common complex feline disease to be deciphered, paving the way for precision healthcare with the potential to ultimately improve welfare for all cats.” 



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