Genomes of big cats revealed
International scientists have mapped the genomes of the tiger, lion and snow leopard, in conservation efforts to protect endangered species. The research give clues to how big cats evolved to become top predators with superior muscle strength and a carnivorous diet.
The tiger shares 96% of its genes with the house cat, the study in Nature Communications reveals. Until now, the only cat to have its DNA mapped was the domestic one.
A team led by Yun Sung Cho at the Personal Genomics Institute, Genome Research Foundation in Suwon, South Korea, sequenced the genome of a Siberian tiger.
he individual, Taegeuk, is a nine-year-old male from Everland Zoo in South Korea.
The team then sequenced the DNA of four other big cats - the (African) lion, snow leopard, white (Bengal) tiger and white (African) lion.
This enabled them to compare how the genes matched up in different members of the cat family.
Genetic signatures show how big cats gained their superior muscle strength, the ability to digest large amounts of meat and a keen sense of smell.
The research also gives genetic clues to how the white lion gained its pale coat and how the snow leopard adapted to the snowy mountain ranges.
One of the lead authors of the report, Jong Bhak, said the tiger genome map will be an important resource for looking at genetic diversity.
The preservation of wild tiger populations, currently estimated at less than 4,000 individuals, is now a major goal of animal conservationists.