A genome is the full set of genetic information that can be found in an individual organism. As a result, understanding genomes is a huge step towards understanding the organisms guided by those genomes. Whole genome sequencing meaning determining an individual organism’s DNA sequence at a single time. It saw lots of use in research, sees lots of use in research, and is expected to continue seeing lots of use in research. However, whole genome sequencing made it into the clinics in the mid 2010s, which excited a lot of people at the time. After all, there are numerous health issues that have a genetic component to them, so there is an expectation that this will pave the way for better healthcare in the times to come.
Why Are Scientists Sequencing Cat Genomes?
Scientists been sequencing the genomes of a wide range of species. Unsurprisingly, cats are one of them. After all, they are one of the most popular pets that can be found on the planet, which is why they have managed to spread to every single continent with the sole exception of Antarctica. Thanks to that, more people care about cats in a way that they don’t care about most species, thus making for that much more scientific interest in our feline companions. Gaining a better understanding of cat genomes promises to be very beneficial. To name an example, it could enable cat enthusiasts to breed healthier kittens.
Having said that, it is important to note that there are some very direct benefits for humans as well. For instance, there is a lot of scientific interest in species that are similar to humans. This is because something that is true for those species has a higher chance of being true for humans as well. As a result, scientists can learn a lot by researching them. Something that is particularly true because some experiments are either too unethical or too impractical to be carried out using humans. To name an example, studying the effects of aging is much easier when working with mice that live 1 to 2 years than with humans that live an average of 70 years for men and an average of 75 years for women. Curiously, cats are said to be very similar to humans, which makes cat genomes that much more useful for figuring out how we work. They aren’t as similar to us as other primates. However, cats are as close as it gets outside of the taxonomic order. On top of that, a lot of cats experience a very similar set of circumstances to ours because they are our pets. A factor that makes them even more useful when it comes to comparisons. Combined, that means that if we learn to help cat by studying their genome, that could provide us with valuable insight into how to help ourselves.
What Does This Mean For Cats?
Of course, improving our understanding of cat genomes means huge changes for our feline companions. For starters, it means that we might be able to start offering them more targeted healthcare than otherwise possible. Simply put, if we are able to fully understand the genetic instructions that went into a particular cat, we should be able to get a much better idea of what said animal is at risk for. It won’t be perfect. Not every health issue is caused by genetics. For that matter, even when a health issue is caused by genetics, it is very common for both the animal’s genetics and the animal’s environment to have played important roles in bringing it about. Still, more awareness of the risks means a better knowledge of what to watch out for as well as what to work on preventing. Both of which promise to bring about huge improvements in outcomes because prevention tends to be so much easier than treatment. On top of this, genome sequencing could empower us to offer more effective treatments for a wide range of health issues than ever before. To name an example, genetic changes are foundational to cancer, so it isn’t hard to see why said procedure is becoming more and more important for our understanding of how cancers work as well as how cancers can be beaten back. There are species that possess an incredible degree of cancer resistance by nature. Unfortunately, cats aren’t one of them, meaning that cancer is as important an issue for them as it is for us.
Besides this, it seems safe to say that genome sequencing will eventually play an important role in cat breeding. It promises to do so in at least a couple of ways. First, genome sequencing promises to tell us more about what genes contribute to what health issues. By gaining a better understanding of why certain health issues come up, interested individuals will find it much easier to come to grasp with the problem of inherited conditions in cats. Second, genome sequencing reveals the genetic instructions that went into a particular animal, which in turn, means revealing the genetic instructions that particular animal could pass on to its descendants. Something that would presumably make it much easier for interested individuals to figure out which of their cats can and can’t be paired with one another. This doesn’t mean that kittens with inherited conditions will just go away. There are kitten mills now. Sadly, it seems likely that there will be kitten mills in the future. Still, genome sequencing seems like it could empower responsible cat breeders to reduce the incidences of inherited conditions in their cats by a great deal.
Further out, genome sequencing could pave the way for more fantastic things to happen. Gene editing is already a thing. For example, people have managed to create naturally-decaffeinated coffee beans by turning off the genes that are responsible for them producing caffeine. Similarly, there is interest in making salmon sterile, which serves to make them grow in a more effective and efficient manner while avoiding the potential for them to interbreed with their wild counterparts if they ever manage to escape their enclosures. Something that is building upon already existing gene-editing that makes them grow faster than otherwise possible. Given the people who are interested in understanding their pets’ genetic profile, chances are good that interested individuals can guess that there is already interest in gene-editing those pets. There are people giving serious thought to how they might turn off gene-related conditions in cats and dogs, particularly among those who are fans of breeds that are known for inherited conditions.