Hill's Pet Nutrition Inc. announced July 20 the donation of its feline genome database to Morris Animal Foundation for the advancement of feline research.
In addition, Hill's has made a $1 million commitment to MAF, and a portion of the funds will be used to establish a Coalition for Feline Genomic Research. The coalition will use the genetic data to study biochemical differences between healthy and unhealthy cats.
The genetic data were the result of Hill's years-long investment in nutrigenomic technology for identifying ingredients that will enhance functional pet food products. The project yielded a wealth of feline genome sequence data with DNA samples from seven cats of various breeds and both sexes.
The DNA sequencing effort identified more than three million feline single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs. These SNPs are small deviations from the common feline DNA sequence that can be used as markers to track down genes responsible for genetic diseases.
Hill's donated its entire collection of SNPs to Morris to ensure the availability of the data to investigators who will use the collection in research advancing feline health. The data also provide researchers with a foundation for developing an SNP genotyping platform.
"It's a major head start for conducting genetic association studies that could one day help veterinarians better understand and diagnose diseases in our feline patients," explained Dr. Janet Donlin, chief of the veterinary business channel at Hill's.
Cats and humans share 250 genetic diseases, so the donation could lead to discoveries affecting human health. "The domestic cat has served as a powerful model for hereditary human disease patterns and for numerous fatal infectious disease agents related to human pathogens," said Dr. Gregg Dean, professor of immunopathology at North Carolina State University.
"The Hill's donation of feline SNP data has the potential of paving the way for future developments, which may make a major contribution to many areas of feline genetics and biology," Dr. Dean said.
Since the canine genome was sequenced in 2005, the bulk of pet-related genetic research has focused on dogs. The feline genome was sequenced two years later, but research has lagged. The hope is the Hill's donation will jump-start the field.
"It is a sad irony," observed Dr. Patricia Olson, president and CEO of Morris Animal Foundation, "that cats are the most popular pet in our country, yet far too little research funding and veterinary care are being provided to meet the cat's unique health needs.
"Thanks to this Hill's donation to Morris Animal Foundation, cats will be given a dramatically better opportunity for a long and healthy life."