DNA Offers New Insight Concerning Cat Evolution

Posted on January 7, 2006  Comments (3)

photo of 4 cheetahs in Kenya

DNA Offers New Insight Concerning Cat Evolution, Nicholas Wade, New York Times:

Before DNA, taxonomists had considerable difficulty in classifying the cat family. The fossil record was sparse and many of the skulls lacked distinctiveness. One scheme divided the family into Big Cats and Little Cats. Then, in 1997, Dr. Johnson and Dr. O’Brien said they thought most living cats fell into one of eight lineages, based on the genetic element known as mitochondrial DNA.

Having made further DNA analyses, the researchers have drawn a full family tree that assigns every cat species to one of the lineages. They have also integrated their tree, which is based solely on changes in DNA, with the fossil record. The fossils, which are securely dated, allow dates to be assigned to each fork in the genetic family tree.

The leopard lineage appeared around 6.5 million years ago in Asia. The youngest of the eight lineages, which led eventually to the domestic cat, emerged some 6.2 million years ago in Asia and Africa, either from ancestors that had never left Asia or more probably from North American cats that had trekked back across the Bering land bridge.

Photos from Curious Cat Travel Photos – Kenya

photo of lion cub in Kenya

3 Responses to “DNA Offers New Insight Concerning Cat Evolution”

  1. Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog » Hypoallergenic Cats
    September 26th, 2006 @ 11:26 am

    Some people are kept from owning wonderful cats due to allergies. Now, ‘Hypoallergenic cats’ go on sale…

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    June 15th, 2008 @ 11:58 am

    “The study suggests the progenitors of today’s cats split from their wild counterparts more than 100,000 years ago – much earlier than once thought…”

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