Thoughts on T.S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway and genetics

Cats are cool. Everybody knows that. Cats can also have very characteristic traits. Everybody knows this, too, particularly since Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Cats, where he popularised T.S.Eliot’s collection of poems Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. Remember them? Gus, the theatre cat? “His coat’s very shabby/ He’s thin as a rake/ And he suffers from palsy that makes his paw shake”. The Old Gumbie Cat? “Her name is Jennyanydots/ Her coat is of the tabby kind with tiger stripes and leopard spots”. And the list goes on.

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“Macavity. Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity. / He’s a fiend in feline shape. / A monster of depravity.”

Yet, not only lovers of literature and music are enthralled by the diversity of features that cats display. Geneticists have also long discovered this phenomenon, which can be very useful to figure the genetic changes that are responsible for a given trait (geneticists call these traits “phenotypes”). So, ok, obviously noone has ever found the Mr. Mistofelees-mutation or the Rum-Tum-Tugger allele, but some of the other things they’ve been looking into is still pretty amazing. Continue reading

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