The discovery pushes back humanity's history with domestication.
- Until now, it was thought that cats weren't domesticated in Central Asia until much later.
- The completeness and details of the skeleton suggest it was someone's pet.
- Isotopic examination reveals a high-protein diet most likely provided by caring humans.
Piecing together history through archaeology is inherently sketchy. Clues that tell a complete story could be anywhere — so much depends on the artifacts that just happened to have been found. It's a credit to archaeologists' knowledge and imagination that they've been able to piece together as much about the distant past as they have.
The recent discovery of a nearly complete skeleton from 775–940 CE belonging to a house cat living along Asia's Silk Road significantly pushes back humanity's history with domesticated animals. Prior to this find, the domestic Felis catus L. — as opposed to F. l. ornat, the wild steppe feline — according to DNA testing, wasn't seen in the archaeological record of Central Asia until around the colonial period of the 18th and 19th centuries. While the remains of domesticated dogs are commonly found, cats are not, and certainly not specimens that are sufficiently complete. This allows archaeologists to infer much about the individual animal's life story. This cat's story is published in the journal Scientific Reports.
The Silk Road
Image source: Nithid/Shutterstock
The legendary Silk Road was not, its name notwithstanding, a single road. Rather, it was a network of trade routes running across Asia from China to the Mediterranean. It was at its height between 130 BCE (when it was officially established by China's Han Dynasty) and 1453, when the Ottoman Empire closed it down.
While the Silk Road's primary purpose was commercial — the transport of goods across the ancient world — the communities through which it passed were exposed to a rich assortment of distant cultures, and its influence was thus profound. When the Silk Road was shut down, explorers took to the world's oceans in search of new trade routes that might replace it.
One of the many communities along the trade route was the early medieval settlement of Dzhankent, located in Kazakhstan, east of the Caspian Sea. It was populated primarily by a pastoralist Turkic tribe called the Oghuz. The Oghuz were nomads who controlled Dzhankent and ruled the surrounding region until the 11th century.
The Dzhankent cat
Image source: Haruda, et al
The tomcat skeleton was found in Dzhankent, and had apparently been deliberately buried, though there is no evidence of any sort of ritual involved, or even clear grave delineations. Still, the deliberate burial means its bones were well-preserved.
"A human skeleton is like a biography of that person," says lead investigator Ashleigh Haruda from the Central Natural Science Collections at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU). "The bones provide a great deal of information about how the person lived and what they experienced." In the case of the cat, there were enough remains — its entire skull including its lower jaw, along with parts of its upper body, legs and four vertebrae — to understand quite a bit about its life.
Haruda's team included both archaeologists and DNA specialists. The tabby did not have an easy life, says Haruda, who conservatively estimates the cat was at least one year old at the time of death.
X-ray and 3D imaging of the bones revealed that "the cat suffered several broken bones during its lifetime." Isotope analysis revealed a high-protein diet, and according to Haruda, "It must have been fed by humans since the animal had lost almost all its teeth towards the end of its life."
From an historical point of view, the cat's presence in the Oghuz community suggests a surprisingly early change in the way these people viewed animals. "The Oghuz were people who only kept animals when they were essential to their lives," says Haruda. "Dogs, for example, can watch over the herd. They had no obvious use for cats back then."
Admit it, caring for your pet can make you happy too. Science is working on why.
- A study shows that caring for your pets can improve your well-being.
- The researchers found the act of caring provided more improvements than mere companionship.
- These results aren't limited to pets. Plenty of studies show caring for others can improve your well-being.
Self-Determination Theory<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="XikKCzfm" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="09db13714ed0c564ca2c54f7b00d8b2c"> <div id="botr_XikKCzfm_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/XikKCzfm-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/XikKCzfm-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/XikKCzfm-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>The authors interpreted these findings in the light of <a href="https://selfdeterminationtheory.org/" target="_blank">Self-Determination Theory</a>, or SDT. A theory of human motivation that focuses on innate drives and needs, it centers around the idea that humans function well when our internal motivations are satisfied and less so when they are not. The key motivations are:</p> <ul><li>Autonomy, defined as a need to be a causal agent.</li> <li>Competence, defined as the need to experience mastery.</li> <li>Relatedness, defined as the need to interact and connect with others as well as the need to experience caring.</li></ul> <p>One possible explanation of the pet effect observed here is that owners are anthropomorphizing their dogs and allowing their owners to perceive tending to a dog's needs as similar to tending to another person's needs. In particular, this is satisfying the need for Relatedness. Whether dogs actually have the same need to connect with others or to be supported so it can "feel free to be its true self" as humans do remains unknown. </p><p>In any case, it does appear that you can satisfy your need to care for something by trying to make your pet happy. Exactly how far this effect can be pushed and if it still works if people aren't anthropomorphizing their pets are areas for future study. </p>
But I don’t own pets, so how does this apply to me?<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="XnsnciQP" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="cd72136aae7a6a2a8fd6c0d002af54d4"> <div id="botr_XnsnciQP_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/XnsnciQP-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/XnsnciQP-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/XnsnciQP-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>The ideas behind SDT can be applied in many situations, not only ones involving pets. A variety of other studies have shown that providing care for others can improve your well-being, but have focused on what happens when <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/315803968_On_the_Benefits_of_Giving_Social_Support_When_Why_and_How_Support_Providers_Gain_by_Caring_for_Others" target="_blank">humans tend to other humans</a>.</p><p>Science has confirmed what many pet owners always knew, taking care of your fur-covered friend is often more of a joy than a chore. This study points to new ways to improve your well-being by interacting with both humans and animals to make everybody feel a little better. </p><p>Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to play with a cat.</p>
You want one. Now you may be able to survive one.
Photo credit: Jie Zhao / Getty contributor
- Cats live in a quarter of Western households.
- Allergies to them are common and can be dangerous.
- A new approach targets the primary trouble-causing allergen.
Neutralizing Fel d 1<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMDU3OTY0MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MTIzOTU2OX0.1Wu-YeICmbuuVKwnN2Cl8i6TeEJDa-fO7OCRFJjRE38/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C172%2C436%2C306&height=700" id="5708b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4aa1994fe66c85f1673a09787f5c384a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A cat playing in a yard in Beijing, China. Photo credit: Jie Zhao / Corbis via Getty Images<p> According to the paper, cats live in about 25 percent of households in Western countries, and allergies to them afflict about 10 percent of nearby humans. The most common cat allergen is called "<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5891966/" target="_blank">Fel d 1</a>," largely produced by a cat's sebaceous glands and found in feline saliva, anal glands, sebaceous glands, skin, and fur. </p><p> Fel-CuMV<sub>TT</sub>, to be marketed as HypoCat™ vaccine by Swiss company <a href="https://www.hypopet.ch" target="_blank">HypoPet</a>, was developed through a collaboration between researchers at the Latvian Biomedical Research and Study Centre, in Riga, and the veterinary school at the University of Zürich — along with scientists at the Functional Genomics Center Zürich.</p>
How the vaccine works<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMDU3OTQ2OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NTU5MzM1M30.cVBywV3EA9NXAEPNy8Z-7XnyuR_0yDyb0GbulE2xdWs/img.jpg?width=980" id="4c9fe" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="7e36a393b6f885952c103ad07b837b8b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology<p>The vaccine brings together recombinant Fel d 1 with a virus-like particle (or "<a href="https://www.hypopet.ch/technology/platform" target="_blank">VLP</a>") derived from the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cucumber_mosaic_virus" target="_blank">cucumber mosaic virus</a>. "We are very pleased to publish this data which shows our HypoCat™ vaccine is able to produce high levels of antibodies in cats and that these antibodies can bind and neutralize the Fel d 1 allergen produced by the animals," <a href="https://www.hypopet.ch/news" target="_blank">says</a> Dr. Gary Jennings, HypoPet CEO. </p><p>Cats treated with the vaccine were found to be less likely to trigger allergic reactions in humans exposed to them. The vaccine is also reported to have been "well tolerated without any overt toxicity" for the feline test subjects. The published data is culled from four separate studies that involved 54 cats.</p>
A double benefit<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMDU3OTY1MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNDEyNzg2N30.0zGpDMCpg8_4bmI1P3veu0g-QvHH9wYSZEO5d91OVBk/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=258%2C239%2C-2%2C54&height=700" id="948a9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2c08adbd98fe069af6c06f86c129367e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Mettus / Shutterstock<p>The benefits of an effective cat-allergy treatment are two-fold. First off, these allergies are not only annoying — and sometimes much more than that — but a cat allergy in kids living with felines is understood to be a strong factor in the development of childhood asthma. A simple three-dose course of vaccine — as administered in the testing — could alleviate cat-owners' suffering and the risk to young ones.</p><p>Households with allergy sufferers, especially children, often find themselves forced to evict a beloved family member, a traumatic experience for all concerned, and a leading cause of cat abandonment. According to HypoCat, U.S. shelters take in 3.4 million cats annually — 1.4 million of these are eventually euthanized.</p>
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons<p>It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the <a href="https://www.croptrust.org/our-work/svalbard-global-seed-vault/" target="_blank">Svalbard Global Seed Vault</a>. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.</p><p>But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1600-0587.2013.00629.x" target="_blank">the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity</a>. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats. </p><p>John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, <a href="https://www.masslive.com/expo/news/erry-2018/09/e565d904646142/umass-scientists-oversee-first.html" target="_blank">said to MassLive</a> that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."</p>