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How cats ended up ruling the world. The answer is in their DNA

Cats conquered the Internet, that’s for sure. But have you ever wondered how the felines evolved over time, from wild beasts to cute furry creatures that sleep up to 20 hours per day and want to be pet only when they are in the mood? It seems that the secret is in their DNA, according to a recently published report in Nature Ecology & Evolution. According to the new research, cats were most likely domesticated in the Middle East and later on spread throughout the world.

More than 6,400 years ago, farmers brought these cats to Europe. Another theory regarding the domestication and migration of cats is the one according to which Egyptian felines colonised Europe and the Middle East, 1,500 years ago.

The truth is not fully uncovered, but modern techniques of analysing the DNA now allow us to approximate the domestication process much better.


Eva-Maria Geigl and Thierry Grange, specialists in molecular biology at the Jacques Monod Institute in Paris, collected mitochondrial DNA that “stores” 9,000 years of history of 352 ancient cat species and 28 more modern feline breeds, from Europe to Asia and Africa.

The results from the tests show that wild and early domesticated cats looked almost the same, with striped fur. These species are called Tabby Mackerel, and it seems that around 80% of modern cats have this tabby mutation.

Another theory is that the great cats from African forests (Felis silvestris lybica) would have been feeding on rodents and food scraps from farmer homes in the Middle East, 10,000 years ago. “Therefore, people held the cats close to their homes, precisely for getting rid of unwanted rodents. This arrangement was beneficial for both parties,” says Grange.

A person buried with a cat in Cyprus, 9,500 years ago, shows that people enjoyed special relationships with the felines around that time.

On the other hand, domestic cats in Africa carry an Egyptian genetic marker 2,800 years old, scientists discovered. They also found out that seven out of nine European cats and 32 out of 70 Asian cats have this Egyptian genetic marker.

Therefore, the domination of Egyptian cats can be explained by the fact that the people actually venerated them, treated them like royalty and never went anywhere without them. And because cats are known for being rather lazy animals, they were most likely brought along by Egyptians in their sea trips, as they left and discovered new territories, thus ending up dominating the world.

Emma Anderson