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May the fossa be with you!

The fossa (Cryptoprocta ferox) is the largest carnivorous mammal on the island of Madagascar. Lemurs make up a good deal of their diets, but they also eat small mammals, fish, lizards, birds, frogs and insects [1]. The fossa is listed as a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature [2].

Fossas are members of the cat family (Feliformia) related to mongooses and hyenas. And like some of their cat relatives, fossas have many unique features. (In case you’ve missed it, read a bunch of mind-blowing facts about spotted hyenas in our blog post from a few weeks ago!) For example, the female fossa undergoes a strange developmental stage during adolescence known as transient masculinization, unique to fossas. It’s unclear what purpose this transient masculinization serves, but scientists hypothesize that it protects juvenile females from harassment by adult males or aggression from territorial females. Fossas also have an unusual mating system, in which a female monopolizes a mating site and chooses her mates. [1]

Today, we share the genome assembly for the fossa, generated using a sample donated by a male fossa from the Houston Zoo named Hansel. Learn more about Hansel from this Houston Zoo podcast video! The genome was generated using the DNA Zoo $1K strategy [3].

See below a whole-genome alignment plot that highlights how the chromosomes (2n=42) of the fossa genome relate to those of the domestic cat (2n=38, felCat9 based on Pontius et al., 2007). As with many members of the cat family, extensive conservation of synteny is seen among the karyotypes, with one major break/fusion event involving cat chromosomes #1 and #2. It is worth noting that some of the rearrangements like chr1 breakage is shared with hyenas and meerkats, see here.

Whole-genome alignment plot between the new genome assembly for the fossa (Cryptoprocta_ferox_HiC) and domestic cat (from Pontius et al., 2007). The karyotypes are highly syntenic except for some major rearranging involving cat chromosomes #1 and #2.


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