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Using the Latest Genetic Technology to Conserve African Wildcat Populations

The wildcat, an ancestor of the domestic cat, lives in the same areas as domestic cats throughout Europe, the Mediterranean and North Africa. Several subspecies of wildcats occupy these areas, and the African wildcat is the subspecies considered to be the most influential in cat domestication. Because of the extensive habitat overlaps, populations of European wildcats are breeding with domestic cats, causing hybridization between the populations. Conservation programs throughout Europe are attempting to preserve true wildcat populations, but identifying pure wildcats can only be accomplished by genetic tests. Conservation programs are trying to find the strongest diagnostic markers to help develop population management programs for the wildcats. The new Illumina Infinium Cat DNA test uses SNP chips, a type of DNA chip  that contains single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), genetic footprints found in DNA, , could provide the most accurate measure for wildcat and domestic cat hybridization. Using this tool, conservationists will be able to identify pure wildcat populations for conservation within Europe. A secondary goal of the research is to identify regions of the genome that may be involved with the domestication process of the cat. The project could identify the genes that are contributing to boldness and tameness and are influencing cat domestication.


Dr. Leslie A. Lyons, University of California–Davis