In 2018 a new DNA test was launched by Genoscoper. It can be ordered at mycatdna.com. (Breeders from the US can order at Optimal Selection.) In this article I will explain all about this test, its contents and how it works.
This test already exists for dogs (mydogdna), but it wasn't available for cats. Breeder Anne M. Berge contacted the lab Genoscoper in 2016 to ask if they can develop a similar DNA for cats. A year later Genoscoper contacted her to ask input about the content of such DNA test. They developed a DNA test for cats and asked breeders from different breeds to set up a test group of 20+ cats to try it out. Their results were used for further development and fine-tuning of the test. In 2017 Tica has started a bigger pilot where 1000+ cats from different breeds were tested. The results are published here. Eventually the final test was launched in 2018 and can be ordered now by everyone through their website.
What do the test results look like?
This test is innovative compared with other labs that offer DNA tests. Below you can get a picture what the summery of the results look like, showing all the different categories. Every breed has its own characteristics that is tested on.
The DNA test contains up-to-date DNA tests for every breed, containing hereditary disorders that can be tested. A distinction is made between relevant hereditary disorders that are validated for your breed (1), possible new relevant inherited disorders (2) and finally the disorders that are validated for other breeds (3). This last category is not shown by default because they are not relevant for your cat.
The DNA test contains more than 20 possible traits like agouti, dilution and length of the coat.
Traits on color and pattern
Traits on coat
Traits on morphology
Part of these test are not seen elsewhere, but some of them are only relevant for certain feline breeds. For example when you have a Polydactyl Maine Coon it can be interesting to see which Polydactyl genes the cat carries.
Tell me something new
What makes this test interesting compared to others? So far you might not have seen major additions. Most of these tests can be ordered from any lab. What makes the DNA test of mycatdna very innovative are the following additions:
Mycatdna maintains a database of all results, which can be viewed publicly for a part of the tested population.
The genetic diversity of the cat is measured.
The site contains a breeder tool where matches can be made with potential partners for your cat.
The site provides information about other cats that are related /unrelated to your cat and where they live and who they are.
I will explain these 4 parts further below.
With your current lab, you probably receive the DNA test result by email. What distinguishes this lab from other labs is that the results can be viewed online. Everyone decides for himself whether you want to publish these results for everyone to see or to rather keep them private. Publishing it has the great advantage that every breeder gets insight into the health of the breed based on the public results. You can also download the results yourself as a PDF file.
2. Genetic diversity
This test measures the genetic diversity of the individual cat by analyzing the DNA on thousands of allele pairs of the genome. Heterozygosity is determined, which indicates what percentage of the genes consist of different allele pairs (heterozygous) instead of two identical allele pairs (homozygous). Because all results are stored in a database, this will form a picture of the genetic diversity of every breed. The results will give you insight into whether your cat has a high, average or low genetic diversity compared to the total population tested within the same breed. As more and more test results are added to the database, these graphs are further adjusted and provide an increasingly accurate picture of the genetic diversity of the breed.
An example of the genetic diversity of Chelles of Macadamia.
3. Breedertool (the dating site for cats)
With the breeder tool you can see which other (public) cats of the same breed can be a potential match with your cat. You can filter the results by country, so that you can only search for a partner in your own country.
An example of potential matches in the Netherlands for my stud Becker.
Each match takes hereditary disorders into account that have been tested. When you match a carrier with a carrier, the risk is immediately shown for the future offspring of that particular parent combination.
Also, the estimated genetic diversity of the future offspring from this mating is shown with each match. This way you can easily see which combination gives the highest genetic diversity.
Family members are recognized by the great similarity in the DNA and are placed at the bottom of the list of matches, because these combinations generally have the lowest genetic diversity. Cats that are registered as neutered or deceased by the owner are obviously excluded from the breeder tool. You also cannot find cats whose profile has not been made public in the breeder tool (unless they are your own cats).
4. Genetic relations
With the function genetic relations you will see a 3D map showing all tested cats of the same breed. Each dot represents a cat and the color indicates in which country the cat is located. You can see on the map how your cat (shown as a white dot with X) is related genetically with the other tested cats of your breed. When you have multiple cats tested, they appear as white dots on the map. When you see a big cluster with dots, these cats have many genetic similarities in their DNA. The dots that are most far away from your cat are the most unrelated and could potentially provide the highest genetic diversity for future offspring. You can view the map from different sides and also zoom in (this feature doesn't seem to work in the google chrome browser). When you move your mouse over a dot you will see the name of the cat. You only see the name when the profile is set as public (for private profiles you only see the name of the breed and the color showing its country).
Above you see the genetic relations map of the Maine Coon.
In addition, this genetic relations map provides a different insight into the breed, namely if there are enough possibilities to keep genetic diversity high in the future. If a breed has a very low genetic diversity, but this map shows the dots scattered across the map, there are still plenty of opportunities to improve the genetic diversity of the breed in the future. It is of course up to the breeders to make this a reality. If successful, you can positively influence the bandwidth of the genetic diversity, which you can see in the graph of point 2. If all the dots lie on top of each other, like one big color spot, there are hardly any possibilities for increasing the diversity, which is a major risk for the breed (inbreeding depression).
Frequently asked questions:
How does it work?
When you have ordered the test, you will receive a package at home containing swaps for collecting the mucous membrane of the mouth and a form with an activation code. With the activation code you can activate a test on the website and link it to the cat you want to test. You create a profile for that cat with information such as chip number, registration number, etc. You use the swaps and send them to their lab. When you receive the results, they will be published on the profile page of the relevant cat (only visible to you). Then you can share the results with specific people or make them completely public so that everyone can see them.
Why would I want to publish the results?
When you publish the results, you give other breeders the opportunity to gain insight into your cat's genes. Sometimes special traits are found that are recessive and therefor not visible, but useful to know. If you make your cat's DNA profile public, it will also be added to the breeder tool, allowing other breeders to make matches with your cat. So when a breeder is interested in stud service, it can be seen more quickly whether the kittens are at a potential risk of hereditary disorders or have compatible blood type. But the genetic diversity of the kittens can also be predicted. By making the profile public, the name of the cat will be visible on the map of genetic relations, allowing other breeders to find your cat when looking for an unrelated new line. Where you help another breeder, another breeder helps you and in this way we help each other as a breeder community with the common goal to keep the genetic diversity of the breed high.
What is the difference between genetic diversity and the inbreeding coefficient (COI)?
The inbreeding coefficient is an indicator that calculates the relationship of the parents, based on a mathematical formula. With a low inbreeding coefficient, the cat has a better chance of heterozygosity of the genes and thus having a higher genetic diversity. In this DNA test, thousands of genes are actually measured and checked per gene whether the two alleles are the same (homozygous) or different (heterozygous). The inbreeding coefficient is a theoretically calculated indicator per parent combination and the genetic diversity is a factual measured percentage per individual.
Two kittens from the same litter have a different genetic diversity, how is this possible?
Just like humans, your cat may have inherited a different DNA package than its sibling. When both parents have similar alleles but each has a different allele, you don't know which of the two has been passed on to the kitten, so that that gene end up being homozygous or heterozygous in two different kittens. Summarize this for thousands of genes and the overall picture of genetic diversity may differ. It is common that there is a 0.1 to 2% difference between brothers and sisters. The biggest measured difference within the same litter so far has been an exceptional 3%.
Can I take the test myself or should I go to the vet?
You can choose yourself and indicate your choice on the form. For official verification, the form must be signed by your vet and the chip must be checked. You can also do the test at home yourself and then you sign that the cat on the form is the same cat of which the swaps are taken.
Can the results be sent to Pawpeds for publication?
Yes, you can download the test results as a PDF file which you can send to PawPeds for registration in the database. Any health program in combination with breed (and sometimes country) has its own contact person and corresponding email address where you can send the results. Check this page for an overview of the health programs from where you can click to the contact page.
How long does it take to get the results?
After the swaps have been received by the lab you will receive a confirmation email, after that it takes an average of 3-4 weeks (maximum 6 weeks) before you can see the results online.
What does the test cost?
The costs of this test is 99 euros plus 8 euros shipping costs. A few times a year they give out discount codes that can be used for a limited time. A discount can also be arranged by your association. Tica has contributed a lot to develop this test and also offers 15% discount for her members. (In the Netherlands, the Tica association is Cats and Tulips).
(Published in the newsletter of Cats and Tulips, First quarter, 2020.)