A new high-quality feline genome may help cats have longer, healthier lives

A new high-quality feline genome may help cats have longer, healthier lives

Our feline friends suffer from many of the same diseases that affect people. Yet the level of genetic information available to help develop new tests and treatments in humans has not been available for cats. Now, a new and improved cat genome reference model, developed by researchers at the University of Missouri and Texas A & M University, and funded in part by Purina, is helping improve feline health by uncovering new links between DNA mutations and feline disease. The study was published October 22nd in PLOS Genetics.

A new domestic cat genome assembly based on long sequence reads empowers feline genomic medicine and identifies a novel gene for dwarfism. Buckley, R. M., Davis, B. W., Brashear, W. A., Farias, F., Kuroki, K., Graves, T., Hillier, L. W., Kremitzki, M., Li, G., Middleton, R. P., Minx, P., Tomlinson, C., Lyons, L. A., Murphy, W. J., & Warren, W. C. (2020). PLoS Genetics16(10), e1008926.


Rondo P. Middleton, PhD, Nestlé Purina Research, Senior Research Scientist

The first whole genome sequence for cats was published in 2007, with DNA from an Abyssinian cat named Cinnamon.1 The new reference genome is vastly more accurate and improves scientists’ ability to identify DNA variations that influence the health of individual cats. This information will help develop tests to guide feline health decisions and improve disease treatment—precision medicine for cats.

In this study, researchers used the new genome as a reference guide to identify variations in DNA sequences from 54 cats that might explain the underlying cause of some diseases in domestic cats. Among the novel variants, they discovered one mutation that linked feline dwarfism with a gene (UGDH) never before associated with dwarfism in any species.

Genetic mapping studies by Purina scientists provided foundational information for this re-sequencing effort. These studies2,3 highlighted how much information was missing from the first sequenced feline genome, and prompted Purina’s collaboration with other genomics researchers to create a more accurate new reference feline genome.

In the future, researchers hope the new genome model will be a resource that helps extend the use of precision medicine in feline veterinary care. With more accurate genetic information, scientists can develop more useful genetic screening tests, earlier disease detection, and treatment options with fewer side effects for cats and better health care outcomes.

Support for this research collaboration, and funding for DNA sequencing of the feline genome, reflects Purina’s long history of contributing to genomics research and the genomics community. Every advance in understanding pets’ genetic makeup offers new opportunities to improve the health and wellness of our companion animals through nutrition.


  1. Pontius, J. U., Mullikin, J. C., Smith, D. R., Agencourt Sequencing Team, Lindblad-Toh, K., Gnerre, S., Clamp, M., Chang, J., Stephens, R., Neelam, B., Volfovsky, N., Schäffer, A. A., Agarwala, R., Narfström, K., Murphy, W. J., Giger, U., Roca, A. L., Antunes, A., Menotti-Raymond, M., Yuhki, N., … O’Brien, S. J. (2007). Initial sequence and comparative analysis of the cat genome. Genome research17(11), 1675–1689. https://doi.org/10.1101/gr.6380007


  1. Farias, F., Tomlinson, C., Labuda, J., Perez-Camargo, G., Middleton, R., & Warren, W. C. (2017). The practical use of genome sequencing data in the management of a feline colony pedigree. BMC veterinary research13(1), 225.https://doi.org/10.1186/s12917-017-1144-y


  1. Li, G., Hillier, L. W., Grahn, R. A., Zimin, A. V., David, V. A., Menotti-Raymond, M., Middleton, R., Hannah, S., Hendrickson, S., Makunin, A., O’Brien, S. J., Minx, P., Wilson, R. K., Lyons, L. A., Warren, W. C., & Murphy, W. J. (2016). A High-Resolution SNP Array-Based Linkage Map Anchors a New Domestic Cat Draft Genome Assembly and Provides Detailed Patterns of Recombination. G3 (Bethesda, Md.)6(6), 1607–1616. https://doi.org/10.1534/g3.116.028746