In case you’ve visited this blog in the last week you might have noticed that I’ve been really engaged in a crowdfunding campaign to sequence Lil Bub*, a cat with very special features. Her features include polydcatyly, meaning that Lil Bub has more than the usual 5 fingers on her paws. During my PhD I studied polydactylous mice,and this connection was one of the things that drew me to this project. Interestingly, however, I found out that the interest for polydactyly seems to run in the family – kind of.
When I visited my uncle in New Zealand this Christmas, I stayed at his amazing little cottage and found, much to my amazement, that he keeps Silkie chicken.
Silkie in my uncle’s garden. Silkie looking at you. Silkie showing off her (polydactyl) feet.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you might have noticed a lack of posts over the last couple of months. This was largely because I’ve been busy setting up a new project with two friends (and former collaborators) of mine: to sequence the genome of Lil Bub, an internet celebrity cat – with the help of crowdfunding. We’ve christened the project the LilBubome, and after many months of preparation we’ve finally launched our blog, our twitter and our facebook page. The crowdfunding will start in 4 days.
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.
“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 →