Bahrain's Dilmun cat focus of global study
Manama, April 28, 2008
Bahrain's Dilmun cat is the focus of an international study that may help scientists learn more about human behaviour.
The study aims to determine the precise origin of domestic cats and the genetic differences between domestic and wild cats.
Researchers believe that by recognising which genes were adapted when cats were domesticated about 12,000 years ago, they may be able to identify similar adaptations in humans.
Identifying which genes govern human behaviour may shed light on conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder and anti-social behaviour, says lead researcher Carlos Driscoll, from the Wildlife Conservation Unit, Oxford University, England.
He believes there are between 10 and 15 genes that were adapted during domestication.
"Behaviourally, domesticated and wild cats are very different and all these things are inheritable, so genes are involved," he told the Gulf Daily News, our sister publication.
"All of these different genes are also likely to be operating in other domestic animals such as sheep and cows, as well as humans.
"Identifying these behavioural genes may shed light on conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder and anti-social behaviour.
"The application down the road would be having identified these genes - are some people predisposed (for particular behavioural conditions)? We hope to have a genetic test for this."
The study, which is the culmination of a seven-year project, is being conducted by the laboratory of Genomic Diversity in Maryland US, in co-operation with Oxford University.
Driscoll is in Bahrain for the next three weeks to gather information about 200 deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) samples from domestic and wild cats.
He will be trapping feral cats across the country and also inviting cat owners to bring their pets to him for sampling.
DNA samples have already been collected from Saudi, UAE and Palestine. But Bahrain's samples may be more interesting because Dilmun cats here seem to have a larger proportion of wild cat genes than those found in other countries.
The researcher said Dilmun cats were probably domesticated about 12,000 years ago in a region known as the Fertile Crescent, which spanned all the way from Kuwait, through Iran, Turkey, Syria and into Palestine.
Domestication is believed to have occurred when humans found the Fertile Crescent and because of the abundance of food and crops were able to settle in one place and become hunter-gatherers.
"Bahrain is interesting because it's on a sea trading route that leads to the fertile region. Kuwait is right there and would have had cats early on," said Driscoll, who is also a researcher at the National Cancer Institute, US.
He said it was likely that by the end of the Dilmun period, about 1,000BC, domesticated cats had been brought to Bahrain.
"Naturally wild cats occurred here and would have bred with the domesticated ones," he said. Wild cats and domesticated cats differ in subtle ways. Domesticated cats are social and can live with other cats, but wild cats are solitary.
"It (the study) is interesting because it tells us about ourselves and it can help us know how people moved around, because cats are part of the package and they lived with people."
Driscoll hopes that the study will help the Dilmun cat become internationally recognised as a breed in its own right. This in turn will help improve cat welfare in Bahrain.-TradeArabia News Service