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Of Cats and Men: Ancient DNA Reveals How the Cat Conquered the Ancient World

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Neither genetics and genomics of modern cats nor archeology could so far reconstruct the domestication and dispersal process of the cat. It was only known that all domestic cats belong to the subspecies Felis silvestris lybica, that their genomes are close to the ones of wildcats, and that they were translocated to Cyprus by the Neolithic farmers who colonized this island roughly 9,500 years ago. The results of our large-scale paleogenetic study of the mitochondrial DNA of archeological cat remains fill the existing gaps in that they allowed us to reconstruct the history of the dispersal of the cat starting in Southwest Asia during the Neolithic and achieving a new quality in Egypt during the 1st millennium BCE. Together with those from Southwest Asia, these mitochondrial lineages from Egypt showed up in samples from the following centuries all over Southwest Asia, North Africa, and Europe, testifying of the cat’s conquest of the ancient world. The dispersal pattern that we reconstructed from our data tells us that cats accompanied seafarers throughout history on their trading and raiding routes.

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... Paleogenomic investigations have provided key insights into the origin and history or domestication of crop plants (reviewed in Lan and Lindqvist 2018) and animals, such as dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) (Frantz et al. 2016;Thalmann and Perri 2018), cats (Felis catus) (Geigl and Grange 2018), and horses (Equus caballus) (Orlando et al. 2013;Orlando 2018), origins and genetic legacy of Neolithic farmers and human settlement in Europe (Skoglund et al. 2012), reconstruction of ancient plant communities (Parducci et al. 2018), and epigenomics of ancient species (Hanghøj et al. 2018). Most of the above paleogenomics aspects are discussed later in this book in the chapter "Paleogenomics: Genome-scale Analysis of Ancient DNA and Population and Evolutionary Genomic Inferences" by Lan and Lindqvist (2018). ...
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Chapter
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The genetic integrity and evolutionary persistence of declining wildcat populations are threatened by crossbreeding with widespread free-living domestic cats. Here we use allelic variation at 12 microsatellite loci to describe genetic variation in 336 cats sampled from nine European countries. Cats were identified as European wildcats (Felis silvestris silvestris), Sardinian wildcats (F. s. libyca) and domestic cats (F. s. catus), according to phenotypic traits, geographical locations and independently of any genetic information. Genetic variability was significantly partitioned among taxonomic groups (FST = 0.11; RST = 0.41; P < 0.001) and sampling locations (FST = 0.07; RST = 0.06; P < 0.001), suggesting that wild and domestic cats are subdivided into distinct gene pools in Europe. Multivariate and Bayesian clustering of individual genotypes also showed evidence of distinct cat groups, congruent with current taxonomy, and suggesting geographical population structuring. Admixture analyses identified cryptic hybrids among wildcats in Portugal, Italy and Bulgaria, and evidenced instances of extensive hybridization between wild and domestic cats sampled in Hungary. Cats in Hungary include a composite assemblage of variable phenotypes and genotypes, which, as previously documented in Scotland, might originate from long lasting hybridization and introgression. A number of historical, demographic and ecological conditions can lead to extensive crossbreeding between wild and domestic cats, thus threatening the genetic integrity of wildcat populations in Europe.
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The recent Brevia concerning evidence of early taming of cats (“Early taming of the cat in Cyprus,” J.-D. Vigne et al. , 9 Apr., p. [259][1]) contains some statements that I feel should be scientifically tempered. Vigne et al. state “The joint burial could also imply a strong association
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