The genes of modern humans have more genetic similarities with those of cats than those of dogs and rats, according to new research published in the journal Trends in Genetics.
The same team responsible for the research has, therefore, been studying the cat genome in recent years. The researchers even created the most detailed genetic mapping of a cat ever done. These data are even more accurate than any mapping ever done in canids.
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Now, however, the team has gone further and published research that criticizes a paradigm in biological research: research models. In general, rats dominate laboratories, serving as models for what would be a human organism. However, research can still use mice, rabbits, dogs and monkeys to simulate the human organism.
According to the research, cats have more genetic similarities in the order and sequence of certain genes than would be found in dogs and mice. One of the authors, Leslie Lyons, states that dogs and rats have rearranged chromosomes, which allows for significant variability compared to humans. Therefore, the team suggests that cats are a potential tool in clinical studies – one that has so far been ignored.
Although genetic sequencing became quite accessible after the Human Genome Project, few species have their genes fully mapped. Thus, the authors indicate that cats may have even more genetic similarities to humans. This can happen with other organisms, too, that we don’t have access to sequencing for yet.
One of the possibilities mentioned by Lyons is research into the introns of our DNA. These pieces of human DNA are non-coding pieces that represent on average 95% of all our genetic material. The scientific mystery here is that no one knows exactly what introns are for, even though they are so bulky.
Thus, the author claims that the genetic study of cats can help us, for example, to understand this “dark matter” in our cells. What’s more, animal testing is still an essential step in most new drugs and vaccines that hit the market. For this reason, by the way, it is so important to have very high genetic similarities between biological and human models.
A search for a new drug can, for example, use hundreds of laboratory mice during its development. Models more like our organism can reduce the number of animals in research, as well as improve the effectiveness of the final products.
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