Shattering Myths: Bengal Cats’ Wild Appearance From Domestic DNA

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Researchers from Stanford Medicine have discovered that the unique patterns and features of Bengal cats are the result of selective breeding of domestic cat genes, not necessarily from their wild Asian leopard cat ancestors.

Stanford Medicine researchers, in collaboration with Bengal cat breeders, have discovered that the Bengal cats’ iridescent sheen and leopard-like patterns can be traced to domestic cat genes that were aggressively selected for after the cats were bred with wild cats.changes that underlie the unique appearance of the Bengal cat breed have always been present in domestic cats,” said Gregory Barsh, MD, PhD, an emeritus professor of genetics.

Barsh and Kaelin saw Bengals — with their recent genetic origin and unique appearance — as a particularly interesting way to study how genetic variation causes diversity in form, color and pattern. In 2008, they began reaching out to cat breeders, attending cat shows, and collecting cheek swabs and photographs of Bengal cats.

Instead, the genetic signatures suggested that the unique appearance of Bengals was a result of variations in genes that had already been present in domestic cats. “Breeders are extremely interested in our data,” Kaelin said. “They not only want to contribute their cats’ DNA but they also want to be involved and help analyze data and hear about our results. It’s been a great collaboration and a true example of citizen science.”


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