A major breakthrough has occurred in the study of cats: American scientists have deciphered and published the most complete animal genome to date. The cat's genome helps unravel human diseases Leslie Lyons, professor of comparative medicine, and her colleagues at the University of Missouri's Feline Genetics Laboratory have been doing this for ten years. During that time, scientists have also compared the cat genome with the human genome and found them to be strikingly similar - much more so, Lyons claims, than the genomes of mice and dogs, which are traditionally used for research. It has long been known that cats suffer from the same genetic diseases that humans do, such as polycystic kidney disease and Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Deciphering the genome will make it possible to understand how these diseases arise in cats, compare them with human genes and thus make a step towards treating these diseases. But not only that: scientists have also identified exactly which gene in cats is responsible for the allergies that animals cause in humans. Lyons and her colleagues therefore talk of possibly breeding more hypoallergenic cats, or at least better understanding exactly what causes a sudden immune response in humans and their allergies. Leslie Lyons' discovery has caused, on the one hand, great excitement among veterinary scientists and, on the other hand, fears among activists and cat owners about using animals for experiments. Scientists have been quick to reassure the public: "All we need for genetic research is a blood sample. By taking it, we are not experimenting on animals. We take cats that are already sick to the lab and just watch them develop the disease," says Leslie Lyons. Interest in cats is not limited to genetics. A lot of research has been published in recent years on the behavioural and perceptual characteristics of these animals, which helps us understand them better. Often these studies seem anecdotal, as they describe the smallest nuances of feline life such as box sitting, stripping and sound registers of meowing. Nevertheless, they are useful to cat owners and anyone interested in the animal world.