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Feline good about 2022

Updated: Jan 18, 2022

The leopard cat, Prionailurus bengalensis, is slender cat-size felid with luxurious tawny rosette-spotted fur with white underbelly inhabiting Asia (from India, Himalayas to Korean peninsula and all the way south to Java and Philippines). Northern subspecies are markedly heavier, robust and vicious, while Southern cats are smaller and friendlier. Fur color and length variations across the range led to distinction of many subspecies (some recently promoted to species) at present narrowed to mainland (P.b. bengalensis and P.b. euptilura), Sunda (P. javanensis javanensis, P.j. sumatranus), and pending revision smaller islands subspecies (P.b. iriomotensis, alleni) (Luo et al., 2014, Patel et al., 2017, Kitchener et al., 2017).

Prionailurus bengalensis by zoologistiques, [CC BY 2.0], via

This nocturnal solitary hunter mostly feeds on rodents, but also smaller mammals, birds, reptiles and insects, rarely ravaging nearby farms for fowl. Agile leopard cats rest on trees, live in the forest undergrowth and can swim. Northern cats breed in mid-winter, while Southern breed all year around with gestation up to 70 days with 2-3 kitten litters. With the population over 50 000 Prionailurus bengalensis is not endangered (CITES Appendix II and protected in Hong Kong) but still can be threatened by the habitat loss.

The leopard cat was domesticated in China about 5,000 years ago! This means that wildcats were, in fact, domesticated once in the Middle East/North Africa region, about 10,800 years ago, and again, from a different species in China approximately 5,000 years later (see this PLOS ONE article). The common domestic cat (Felis catus) however appears to have replaced the leopard cats in China sometime after 3000 BCE. In continuation of the intertwined history between the species, recently crossing of leopard cat and domestic cat created the Bengal cat breed with rare among domestic cats spotty coat pattern!

Today, we share a chromosome-length assembly of the leopard cat based on the PriBen1.0 genome assembly generated and shared via NCBI by A. Komissarov, L. Dalen, A. Wilting and T. Gilbert. The chromosome-length upgrade was done with Hi-C generated using cultured cells from primary fibroblast cell line (passage 4) provided by Polina Perelman (Institute of Molecular and Cellular Biology). Captive male Tuo (PBE-54, NIHAC LC94004) was brought from Tallin Zoo Park (Dr. Vladimir Feinstein) and brought to NIH Asian cats colony. The animal belongs to most Northern euptilura subspecies (Luo et al., 2014, Patel et al., 2017). The cell line was established from skin biopsy by Mary Thompson, in the Laboratory of Genomic Diversity at NCI-Frederick lead by Dr. Stephen O’Brien, and later preserved by Drs. Melody Roelke, Carlos Driscoll, Christina Barr, Stephen Lindell, and David Goldman at the Section of Comparative Behavioral Genomics, NIAAA. The scaffolding was done using 3D-DNA and Juicebox Assembly Tools. We thank the DNA Zoo Novosibirsk team and DNA Zoo Australia team at the University of Western Australia as well as Pawsey Supercomputing Centre for their help with this assembly!

Leopard cat has standard felid karyotype with 2n=38. The centromere repositioning chromosome banding pattern and morphology from F1 to E4 (Bredemeyer et al., 2021). Check out the interactive map of the leopard cat chromosomes below!

In the "The animal kingdom, or zoological system, of the celebrated Sir Charles Linnæus" (Class I. Mammalia: Containing a complete systematic description, arrangement, and nomenclature, of all the known species and varieties of the mammalia, or animals which give suck to their young) the leopard cat is referred to as the Bengal tiger-cat, making this a perfect release to start 2022, the year of the Tiger! Happy 2022 everyone!!!

Blog post by Pasha Dobrynin, Polina Perelman, Ashling Charles and Parwinder Kaur

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