New study shows cats once conquered human world

Science Says: DNA shows early spread of cats in human world

"I would say cats chose human company, but it was a commensal relationship - it was profitable to both sides", explained Dr Geigl, of Institut Jacques Monod in Paris. Researchers analyzed DNA extracted from the teeth and bones of over 200 cats.

Even to this day, domestic cats closely resemble their wild cousins in terms of body build, function and behaviour. Around the 14th century, cat breeders began to shift gears, capitalizing on a demand for cats as adorable companions, in addition to their penchant for pest control.

This suggests that people likely initially started domesticating cats based only on their behavioral traits, rather than aesthetic factors like color or stripes, the authors said. Wildcats are neither social nor hierarchical, which also makes them harder to integrate into human communities.

Yet it's impossible to deny that cats are tame. Cats likely followed the rodent populations and, in turn, frequently approached the human settlements. Those early cats were "dependent on somebody putting a bunch of kittens in a basket and walking across a desert with them", Driscoll says. Mitochondrial DNA is inherited unchanged exclusively from the mother, and it is often used to trace the ancestry of different species. But the Egyptian incursion really took off between 1,600 and 700 years ago. Mostly this was due to the spread of agriculture. They used to store grains around that attracted wild cats.

It is noted that the middle East was the beginning of the convergence of humans and cats, which led to the domestication of the animal.

"It is tempting to speculate that the success of the Egyptian cat is underlain by changes in its sociability and tameness", they wrote in the paper.

They realized that many of these cats were spreading along shipping routes. The earliest representations of cats depict a working animal, like the rat hunter in the limestone tomb. This suggests that, at that time, serious efforts to breed cats for appearance began - perhaps the origin of modern cat shows. Eventually, the genes of some cat clades began to win out over others.

The ancient Egyptians may have been responsible for this popularity. For example, scientists will look to determine whether domesticated Egyptian cats come from the same branch or if a different process took place. "This must have been a cat that was at the time very attractive to people, because it spread very efficiently". Or the ancient Egyptians may have independently domesticated cats from local type C wildcats.

Though these cats traveled the world with humans, they were never properly domesticated. What's more, though some of them are perfectly happy to curl up on human laps, cats, unlike their canine housemates, are quite capable of living outdoors and feeding themselves.

The study focuses entirely on the lineage of what we consider typical house cats, but today you can find cat breeders who specialize on nearly-wild cats, just a generation or two separated from true wild felines. The first selective breeding among cats did not appear until the 1800s, they noted. This pattern is known to be caused by one gene mutation.

The spotted or blotched tabby pattern common in housecats today, does not exist in wildcats, which are all striped.

The study revealed that unlike for dogs or horses, humans did not breed cats for their looks - at least for the first few thousand years. At that moment, cats became more like other domestic animals. This is one of those times.

First, if the internet is any indicator, humans love cats.

An ancient exodus of cats from both Turkey and Egypt may have given us the modern cat. Cats were mummified and formally mourned by their owners, who shaved their eyebrows off when their kitties died. Imagine having a golden retriever-sized cat, with the same sunny disposition. In years to come, cat lovers may live happily alongside pint-sized tigers, or big black cats recalling teenage panthers.

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