Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Domestic cats have common ancestor

12,000-year-old feline history traced to Middle East Inside the cells of your pet cat lies a history book, a story that stretches back to when humans first settled into civilizations and discovered agriculture. Using DNA from modern house cats, researchers have traced the origin of domestic cats to a specific time and region that coincided with the settlement of humans in the Middle East known as the Fertile Crescent. "The evidence tells us that cats from throughout the entire world have a single common ancestor," said study author Carlos Driscoll. Scientists have long debated whether cats were independently domesticated at several regions and points in time, or whether they were first kept as pets in one civilization before being spread around the world. The identification of a single ancestral species for modern house cats supports the single-origin theory. When this domestication occurred remains cloudy. In 2004, French researchers found the remains of a cat buried with a human who died roughly 9,500 years ago on the island of Cyprus, where there are no native wildcat species. This discovery placed the association between humans and cats much older in history than previously thought. Earlier theories speculated that Egyptians were responsible for cat domestication, roughly 4,000 years ago, based on the animal's appearance in art and tombs of the era. Dating the origin of domestic cats earlier and placing this process in the Middle East suggests that cats played a role in the lives of the first farmers.