Thirteen genetic variants associated with feline disease are present in more pedigreed cats than previously thought, according to the largest-ever DNA study of domestic cats. However, experts from the Wisdom Panel in the US and the University of Helsinki in Finland, who conducted the study, found that the frequency of these variants decreases in breeds that are regularly tested for genetic markers.
Scientists have genotyped more than 11,000 domestic cats – 90 purebreds and 617 outbreds – for 87 genetic variants associated with disease, appearance and blood type. The results showed that there was more genetic diversity in the outbred cat population. Although three disease-associated variants were found only in outbred cats, the researchers also identified 13 disease-associated variants in 47 breeds that did not previously have these diseases.
Fortunately, the frequency of some markers appears to have declined since they were first identified. For example, PKD1 – a genetic variant associated with PKD and previously found in more than 40 percent of Persian cats – was not identified in any of the 118 Persians, but was found in Scottish Straights and Maine Coons.
Genetic markers for specific coat colors and patterns, such as colorpoints in Siamese cats, appear to be responsible for the same traits in other breeds. Finally, the analysis showed that the rarest color variant was the amber coat color characteristic of Norwegian Forest cats, which was also found in one of the non-pedigree cats.
According to the scientists, genetic screening for disease variants, together with information about the genetic diversity of all breeds, can reliably inform breeders about their decision making. What’s more, these tools can help develop balanced breeding plans that maintain genetic diversity and avoid breeding disease-prone kittens.
This information can help support the goals of sustainable feline breeding.” Consumer direct genetic testing helps raise awareness of various hereditary single-gene diseases in cats and provides information that owners can share with their veterinarians. Over time, such studies will help decipher the genetics of common, complex feline diseases, which will pave the way for precision medicine that can ultimately improve the well-being of all cats,” the authors explain.
“This study demonstrates the clinical utility and importance of comprehensive genetic screening of feline variants to support domestic cat breeding programs, veterinary care, and public health research,” concluded lead author Heidi Anderson, feline genetics expert at the Wisdom Panel.
The study is published in the journal PLOS Genetics.