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Collaring the gene for impurrfect ears.

Collaring the gene for impurrfect ears

It started in 1981, when a stray black cat with funny ears mooched a meal from a family in Lakewood, Calif., and moved in. From that simple encounter, and the birth of some kittens, grew a worldwide debate about the genetics behind those curly ears--a debate that appears closer to resolution with a newly released research report.

Since 1983, cat fanciers have bred the unusual mutants -- now called American curl cats--with an eye toward developing a show breed. In analyzing data on 81 litters (383 kittens), Roy Robinson of the St. Stephens Road Nursery in London, England, has confirmed that the ear-curling gene is autosomal dominant. That means any cat with even one copy of the gene will show the trait.

But some breeders have wondered whether other genes might modify the expression of the curl gene and thus the appearance of the curl itself -- a complication that would slow efforts to establish a new breed. And some worry that the curl, like other ear mutations in cats, may bring with it a risk of unwanted abnormalities. Some cats with genes for forward-flopping ears, for example, have stubby tails, swollen feet and lethargic natures.

In the November/December 1989 JOURNAL OF HEREDITY, Robinson reports finding no such defects in any of the crosses he has analyzed. He cautions that a final judgment of the curl gene, which apparently codes for a slight overproduction of cartilage along the inner lining of the ear, will require data from more cats carrying dual copies of the gene. But cat breeders say it looks as if the curt mutation has provided a new and healthy breed -- and one with an outstanding temperament.

One cat association has already accepted the curl cat as an official breed, and another has granted it probationary status, says breeder Bradley L. Mayer of Somerville, N.J. To pass the probationary muster, he says, the candidates "walked across the conference table, sat in each of the directors' laps, kissed them, and that was it."
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Title Annotation:cats
Author:Weiss, R.
Publication:Science News
Date:Feb 10, 1990
Words:340
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