Pallas’s Cat Genome Completed, Will Help In Conservation Of Cat With The “Grumpy” Face

The Pallas Cat (Octobulus manul) is certainly an unusual looking cat with its wide face, low slung ears and grumpy expression. The cat, also known as a manul, was not well-understood either. But understanding took a giant step forward recently with the first full mapping of the Pallas’s cat genome.

photo of a pallas s cat
Manuls are small and stocky cats well suited to cold climates. They eats many types of rodents and other small prey. Photo by Radovan Zierik on

DNA is the information molecule of an organism. The genome is all of the organism’s DNA.

University of Minnesota researchers recently completed the Pallas’s cat genome map. They were aided by a number of agencies including the United States Department of Agriculture. The cat was originally named after Peter Simon Pallas (1741-1811) a Prussian scientist who worked in modern Russia for much of his career. Manul is derived from the Mongolian name for the cat.

According to the University:

“The researchers used blood samples from Tater, a 6-year-old Pallas’s cat who lives at the Utica Zoo in New York, to construct a high-quality diploid nuclear genome assembly, a representative map of genes for the species.

The study results include confirmation that the Pallas’s cat is more closely related to certain wild cat species and less related to house cat species than some previous studies have suggested. 

An allele-specific methylation analysis — the first of its kind in cats — also sheds light on how gene expression is regulated in mammals through a process called genomic imprinting. Mammals inherit two copies of each gene from their parents; usually these copies are equally active, but imprinted genes have chemical tags that turn off one copy. These findings pave the way to a deeper understanding of growth, development and hybridization among cat species, which could have important implications for genetic diversity and conservation.”

Current thinking is that the small cats diverged from feline ancestors millions of years ago That makes them the oldest modern cat. Their closest living relative maybe the Leopard Cat of Southeast Asia (Prionailurus bengalensis).

Kittens such as these have been born and raised in captivity helping to stave off extinction


“These resources will enable future research not only on Pallas’s cat, but on the health, disease and physiology of house cats and other species — even translational work to humans. This is particularly true of the assessment of allele-specific methylation, because imprinting is a unique feature of genes shared across mammals, and has significant implications for our understanding of human growth and development. But it has been chronically understudied because of the limitations of existing technology — limitations that nanopore sequence

The university said the study, published in NAR Genomics and Bioinformatics, was led by Nicole Flack, a doctoral candidate in the College of Veterinary Medicine, along with Christopher Faulk, a professor in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences. 

Indian Jerboa Rat (Gerbillus Indicus)
Indian Jerboa Rat (Gerbillus Indicus) by New York Public Library is licensed under CC-CC0 1.0 gerbils, gerboas and other rodents make up much of the manul’s diet.

According to the university

Project funding was provided by the United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the Norn Group, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Science Foundation.

Manuls are the recent focus of increased conservation efforts as numbers appear to be declining. But they have been spotted for the first time on the slopes of Mount Everest, surprising biologists.

Published by ursusrising

long time writer and editor living in Los Angeles

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