The Near Eastern Origin of Cat Domestication in Fredcobio
Posted by Jim H on October 31, 2010
I am always amazed at the breadth and depth of scientific research going down in our own back yard. I bet you didn’t know that this 2007 paper in Science was partially done in Frederick: The Near Eastern Origin of Cat Domestication
A few weeks back I went to Olive’s, on a whim, and ended up chatting with this cat Carlos who works at the Laboratory of Genomic Diversity at NCI over a martini or two. Fascinating stuff. The research shows that wildcats (Felis silvestris) were initially domesticated in the Near East, probably coincident with agricultural village development in the Fertile Crescent. Interestingly, cats differ from other domesticated animals in that they seem to provide no real benefit to humans aside from catching rodents in the early grain stores & companionship.
The Science text is a very detailed technical account and is followed up with a more elaborate, “scientifically toned down” article in the June 2009 edition of Scientific American.
Some conclusions of this article
Unlike other domesticated creatures, the house cat contributes little to human survival. Researchers have therefore wondered how and why cats came to live among people.
Experts traditionally thought that the Egyptians were the first to domesticate the cat, some 3,600 years ago. But recent genetic and archaeological discoveries indicate that cat domestication began in the Fertile Crescent, perhaps around 10,000 years ago, when agriculture was getting under way.
The findings suggest that cats started making themselves at home around people to take advantage of the mice and food scraps found in their settlements.
In an article published in PNAS in 2009, the authors delve into the differences between Natural vs. Artificial Selection. Interesting stuff:
We perceive today, as did Darwin, that natural selection is the environmentally driven mechanistic process by which more advantageous traits are, on the whole, passed on to succeeding generations more often than less advantageous traits because of differential reproduction of the individuals possessing them. Sexual selection is a natural process of intraspecific competition for mating rights. Artificial selection, generally the motive force behind domestication, is often equated with selective breeding. This often amounts to prezygotic selection (where mates are chosen by humans) versus postzygotic selection (where the most fit progeny reproduce differentially) as in natural selection. Although natural selection plays a considerable role in the evolution of many traits (e.g., disease resistance) during the animal domestication process, sexual selection is effectively trumped by the human-imposed arrangements of matings and often by the human desire for particular secondary sexual characters. Artificial selection is a conscious, if unintentional, process, and therefore is generally considered to be effected only by humans.
This is exactly the kind of research we’re doing at Ft Detrick that I think would be brilliant to get out to people by a yet to be established mechanism. I wonder if The various agency “partners” at Ft Detrick even track this stuff?