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The Key to Fixing These 4 Human Genetic Diseases Could Lie in Cat DNA

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Here’s a fact that won’t surprise crazy cat ladies: Cats and humans share about 90 percent of their DNA—and because of that, we’re susceptible to many of the same diseases. That’s why Dr. Leslie Lyons, leader of the Feline & Comparative Genetics Laboratory, currently at the University of Missouri, is trying to find and map mutations in the genes of domestic cats. “Our overall research goal is to develop the cat as a model for human disease,” she says. “Understanding how a gene goes wrong in a cat will help us understand how it works in humans as well.” And that means that cats can be used as models to test gene and drug therapies. (Healthier cats are a goal too, of course.) Here are a few genetically inherited diseases scientists hope cat DNA can help fix.

1. Polycystic Kidney Disease

Caused by mutations on the PKD1, PKD2, and PKHD1 genes

PKD, which affects some 500,000 people in the United States, is “one of the most prominent inherited diseases in humans,” Lyons says. It was present in approximately 30 percent of cats in the Persian breed family when the lab launched the genetic test for it in 2004. The cat mutation is found in the cat gene version of PKD1.

2. Ectodermal dysplasia

Caused by mutations on dozens of genes 

This mutation in Burmese cats causes a “stretchy skin” disease. In humans, mutations on known genes can cause more than 150 kinds of ectodermal dysplasias, or defects in the hair, skin, teeth, and sweat glands.

3. Retinitis pigmentosa

Caused by mutations on nearly 200 genes

Cats suffer from four types of inherited blindnesses, including two types of Retinitis pigmentosa. The disease, which causes photoreceptors in the retina to degenerate, leading to blindness, also affects about 1 in 3500 people. “We know that we can correct blindness with gene therapy—it’s been done,” Lyons says. “What we want to do is we correct the blindness in the cats, and if it works well in the cats, then it’s going to work well in humans too.”

4. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy

Caused by mutations on more than 50 genes

This disease, which causes abnormally thick heart muscle, is the most common of genetic heart conditions; it affects 1 in 500 people. Breeds that are susceptible include Maine Coon, Ragdoll, Sphynx, Birman, Bengal, and Norwegian Forest Cat, according to Lyons.

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Courtesy of The National Aviary
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Animals
Watch This Live Stream to See Two Rare Penguin Chicks Hatch From Their Eggs
Courtesy of The National Aviary
Courtesy of The National Aviary

Bringing an African penguin chick into the world is an involved process, with both penguin parents taking turns incubating the egg. Now, over a month since they were laid, two penguin eggs at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania are ready to hatch. As Gizmodo reports, the baby birds will make their grand debut live for the world to see on the zoo's website.

The live stream follows couple Sidney and Bette in their nest, waiting for their young to emerge. The first egg was laid November 7 and is expected to hatch between December 14 and 18. The second, laid November 11, should hatch between December 18 and 22.

"We are thrilled to give the public this inside view of the arrival of these rare chicks," National Aviary executive director Cheryl Tracy said in a statement. "This is an important opportunity to raise awareness of a critically endangered species that is in rapid decline in the wild, and to learn about the work that the National Aviary is doing to care for and propagate African penguins."

African penguins are endangered, with less than 25,000 pairs left in the wild today. The National Aviary, the only independent indoor nonprofit aviary in the U.S., works to conserve threatened populations and raise awareness of them with bird breeding programs and educational campaigns.

After Sidney and Bette's new chicks are born, they will care for them in the nest for their first three weeks of life. The two penguins are parenting pros at this point: The monogamous couple has already hatched and raised three sets of chicks together.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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holidays
Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album
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Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

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