Scientists decode the genome of the world's big cats

Sept. 17, 2013 at 7:43 PM
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SUWON, South Korea, Sept. 17 (UPI) -- International scientists say they've mapped the genomes of the tiger, lion and snow leopard, hoping to bolster efforts to protect the endangered species.

The team led by Yun Sung Cho at the Genome Research Foundation in Suwon, South Korea, sequenced the genome of a female Siberian tiger at the Everland Zoo in South Korea.

Writing in the journal Nature Communications, the researchers said the sequencing revealed tigers share 96 percent of their genes with domestic cats.

The team then went on to sequence the DNA of four other big cat species -- the African lion, snow leopard, white Bengal tiger and white African lion.

The genomes show how big cats gained their superior muscle strength, the ability to digest large amounts of meat and a keen sense of smell, and also yielded genetic clues to how the white lion gained its pale coat and how the snow leopard adapted to the snowy mountain ranges, the researchers said.

The tiger genome map will be an important resource for looking at genetic diversity, they said, as the preservation of diminishing wild tiger populations is a major concern of animal conservationists.

"Our tiger reference genome can be used as the basis for comparing all the tigers in the world, so that we know the genetic diversity of tigers," researcher Jong Bhak told the BBC.

"And we can actually have a plan of how we can breed tigers effectively [in zoos] to save the genetic diversity."

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