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Scientists Map the Genes of Tigers, Lions and Snow Leopards

Update Date: Sep 21, 2013 11:56 AM EDT

Scientists have mapped the genomes of the big cats, including tiger, lion and snow leopard, in efforts to protect endangered species.

A research team from the Genome Research Foundation in Suwon, South Korea, set out to map several large cat species and made some interesting discoveries along the way. Until now, the only cat to have its DNA mapped was the domestic one.

The team led by Yun Sung Cho at the Personal Genomics Institute found clues as to how big cats evolved to become top predators with superior muscle strength and a carnivorous diet.

The researchers were able to sequenced the DNA of (African) lion, snow leopard, white (Bengal) tiger and white (African) lion, which enabled them to compare how the genes matched up in different members of the cat family. The findings, published in the Sept. 17 journal Nature Communications, could help conservation efforts by preventing closely related captive animals from breeding.

According to the report, the research also gives genetic clues to how the white lion gained its pale coat and how the snow leopard adapted to the snowy mountain ranges.

"Our tiger reference genome can be used as the basis for comparing all the tigers in the world, so that we know the genetic diversity of tigers," Bhak told the BBC.

"And we can actually have a plan of how we can breed tigers effectively [in zoos] to save the genetic diversity."

"This brings the age of genomics to the conservation of these species, which are an umbrella for the conservation of many other animals and habitats," he added. 

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