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How cats conquered the world

A new study outlines how cats went from pest-controllers to human companions and found that most cats come from one of two major lineages of felines from the Near East and Egypt.

How they did it: Scientists analyzed ancient and modern DNA from the remains of over 200 cats that lived during the past 9,000 years, including Egyptian cat mummies and modern wildcats from Bulgaria and East Africa.

  • Cat's cradle: Cats began living side-by-side with humans about 9,000 years ago when farmers in the Near East seem to have first tamed their wild ancestors.
  • Biggest contributors to today's domestic cat gene pool: A cat lineage that first appeared in the Near East and then spread into Europe beginning around 4400 BC and another of Egyptian cats that moved throughout the Mediterranean along trade routes and paths of war (potentially to help control rodents on ships) during the first millennium BC. They then mated with local cats - tame or wild.
  • It's not all appearance: The genetic variant responsible for the distinct markings of tabby cats weren't found at a high frequency until after the Middle Ages, suggesting cats were until relatively recently selected for their behavior not their looks.
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