In a new scientific research project by the Welcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge led by Dr Bronwen Aken the conclusion has been that humans have part-domesticated wild cats by giving them food treats over generations.
All cat owners are familiar with those loud purrs signifying pleasure from their pets whenever they are physically interacting but this too came about through domestication because cats are very tactile creatures. This new analysis set about making comparisons between domestic cat genomes and that of wild relatives.
Key to taming the animals in the first place was shown by this research to have been crucial changes in feline DNA over the past 9,000 years as the animals became domesticated. Perhaps not too surprisingly the main changes involved genetic alterations to the reward and pleasure centred brain cells.
The team concluded that human domestication started through enticing the solitary creatures with food treats and mild stroking. Not all would be responsive to such treatment but those that were would over time have become increasingly docile animals.
As these interbred the level of domestication would have started to increase. The process likely started with feral felines finding food scraps close by human settlements and gradually becoming more accustomed to human presence. It seems likely that their natural curiosity would have led them to moving in closer until the day came when they were being fed and eventually petted.
It is believed that cat domestication began around 10,000 years ago from the still surviving Near Eastern wildcat. In Cyprus 9,000 year old archaeological evidence for domesticated cats has been found. The Near Eastern wildcat is almost certainly the fore-bearer of every breed of household cat alive today and is known to be highly solitary and reclusive.
Comparison of their genome with those of of 22 domestic cats from various countries 13 key genes were established as being different. These included, those reward centre genes and those responsible for creating the pleasure hormone Dopamine. Further differences included memory and fear conditioning genes and others but the research also concluded that domestication has not eliminated the wild cat predatory nature.
Cats have an inferior sense of smell to dogs and never will be as unquestioningly loyal to their owners but there is something incredibly regal about them and that haughtiness is exactly the quality that keeps us all coming back for more. The question of that independent nature is what makes the cat such an appealing pet and they know it, of that you can be certain.
Image via http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cat#mediaviewer/File:Cat_poster_2.jpg
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