Since 2018 Genoscoper launched a new DNA test. Next to the regular testing on HCM1, SMA and PK-def and traits, this test provides something very cool: insight in the genetic diversity! Thousands of genes are measured which ends up in a percentage showing the genetic diversity of the cat. This information is stored in a database and can be accessed through mycatdna.com. You can read all about this DNA test in this article "MyCatDNA".
A part of this database is set public by the owners of the cats. With the public profiles of Maine Coons, I was able to do a bit of research to create more insight on this new test genetic diversity (%) and how it relates to our conventional indicators.
This chart below shows the genetic diversity of the Maine Coon breed, which is between 28-42%. The average genetic diversity of the breed is at 34,5% at this point (22-1-2020). When more Maine Coons are being tested and added to this database in the future, the average and bandwidth of the genetic diversity can change. The chart is based on population A* (explained at the end of this article). You can see from the chart that most of the tested Maine Coons score between 32 and 39% genetic diversity. Very few Maine Coons score in the outer areas. The database contains Maine Coons from all over the world, it includes New Foundation lines, showlines, outcross and polydactyl Maine Coons. A pretty diverse Maine Coon database, which provides us a good picture of the diversity of our breed.
Does the Maine Coon have a healthy genetic diversity?
The Maine Coon is a natural breed, so one would expect it to be diverse. Although there are not many new Foundation Maine Coons added to the breed today, the breed is still considered to be diverse. The diversity does depend on the lines that are being bred with. Some lines are less diverse than others, that’s why testing is a good thing.
If you have a less diverse cat now, don't panic! By using the breedertool within MyCatDNA you can find specific cats that come from unrelated lines and can improve the genetic diversity for your future offspring. A low genetic diverse cat can still be genetically of huge importance to the population if the genes are unrelated to the majority of the breed. You can easily improve it by choosing the right partner for future matings and make a huge jump in only one or a few generation. When more cats are added and set on public, the more interesting this tool will get. It can help a breeder to improve the genetic diversity as a part of their breeding plan, besides the conventional indicators such as COI% (total inbreeding coefficient) and Clones%. It adds a new interesting perspective of information that breeders didn’t have before.
Compare different cat breeds
When you take a look at the Maine Coon breed compared to other cat breeds, you can see it is pretty high ranked on nr 6 (Polydactyl) and 8 (non-poly). As expected, the natural breeds are more genetically diverse than the breeds that were created by breeders. Note that this only shows the median (average). Every breed has it’s own bandwidth, for some breeds the bandwidth is really small and for other breeds it's very wide.
Is a domestic cat healthier than a Maine Coon?
In the Netherlands, a common thought is that a mixed breed or a domestic cat is healthier than a pedigreed cat because of their higher genetic diversity. Well the median of a domestic cat is indeed a bit higher than the median of a Maine Coon. The bandwidth of a domestic cat is between 35-42% (shown below in orange) and for a Maine Coon between 28-42% (shown below in blue). BUT depending on the breeders goals and the lines the breeder is working with, it is definitely possible to breed Maine Coons that have at least as much genetic diversity as a mixed breed or a domestic cat. Maine Coons that have a genetic diversity higher than 35% have reached that point. Obviously a breeder working with pedigreed cats has more knowledge of the lines and the quality of the genes in terms of health than a breeder who’s cat accidentally got pregnant by some neighbor’s cat we don’t know anything about. Which can make the choice for a pedigreed Maine Coon even safer than a domestic cat who's history of the ancestors is unknown and where no healthtests are done.
How can you use genetic diversity in your breeding program?
When I learned about this test, my first question was: how does the genetic diversity relates to inbreeding levels? You would expect to see a higher genetic diversity of cats who have low inbreeding levels. But is this true for every cat? I had to find out by doing research on the public Maine Coon profiles in mycatdna.com. I looked up the pedigree names in the Pawpedsdatabase in order to find information about the inbreeding levels and clones. Then I have made the charts to visualize the correlation between the indicators that we use:
inbreeding on 5 generations and 10 generations
Below are the results for each indicator and the correlation with genetic diversity. All those charts are based on Population B*.
Genetic diversity correlated to COI%
Let’s have a look at how the genetic diversity relates to the total inbreeding coefficient (COI%). You can see the green line, showing the average COI versus genetic diversity (%). For example a Maine Coon that has a genetic diversity of 39% (these results are rounded) has an average COI of 5%. And a Maine Coon with a genetic diversity of 31% has an average COI of 19%.
The yellow and blue lines show the bandwidth where the COI% can be on an individual level. It shows that there is at least one Maine Coon that has a high genetic diversity of 38% and also has a higher COI than you would expect: 15%. The yellow line also shows an exceptional result of a cat that has a low genetic diversity of 30% and has a COI of 0%. How can this happen? A cat with 0% inbreeding doesn't exist, but (New) Foundation cats are registered as such, since we don't know their parents and inbreedinglevels. This shows that probably not all New Foundation cats (COI 0%) are genetically diverse. But this test can proof if they are! This particular cat probably has related parents (high COI), but could still be very unrelated to the majority of the other cats and bring in new genes to the population.
The black dotted line shows how many Maine Coons fall into the genetic diversity category. The outer edges don’t have as much testresults to draw reliable conclusions here. But the trend (green line) is very visible. In other words, there is a correlation between the COI and the genetic diversity, but it is not as predictable, since there are exceptions.
You can make general predictions here: A Maine Coon with COI of 15% is likely to have a genetic diversity less than 35%, but you can see from the blue line that 38% is still possible also. Maine Coons that have lower inbreeding levels then 10% will probably have a genetic diversity level between 36,5 and 40,5%. In a low COI% pedigree nowadays often one or more New Foundation cats are responsible for the low numbers. But the genetic diversity does depend on the genetic diversity level of the New Foundation cat and how unrelated those genes are to the lines you mix them with. This test adds new information about the genetic diversity of that new line and if it indeed adds something new to the breed.
Genetic diversity correlated to inbreeding and linebreeding
So we have had a closer look at the total COI levels, but what about the inbreeding levels that are more recent in the pedigree? I’ve added two categories here. The inbreeding level within 5 generations, that shows how related the cats are looking only at the last 5 generations. The second one is the linebreeding that was done in the last 10 generations, how many double ancestors do you find there? Although there are not many examples of extreme inbreeding in the database to derive good conclusions from them, you can still see in the chart below, that in order to be on the higher side of genetic diversity, it is wise to keep the inbreeding levels of the last 10 generations of your future matings below 2% (results > 34%) or preferable below 1% (results > 37%). That being said, a Maine Coon with 10 generation inbreeding level of 6% can still have a genetic diversity of 38%. Chances are small, but it happens. I guess this was the lucky cat that inherited the unrelated parts of the related parents.
In case you didn’t already realize that inbreeding is not a good idea health-wise, the breeder tool helps you visualizing the results when you plan to mate related cats.
Brother – sister mating increases the COI with 25%. What happens with the genetic diversity when you plan such a mating (which is not recommended)? In the breeder tool you can match the profile of Chelles of Macadamia (genetic diversity of 39,2%) with her brother Lyon of Macadamia (genetic diversity of 37,8%). (Note that brother and sister have a difference of 1,4%, which shows that not all siblings have the same genetic diversity.) Their kittens are expected to have a genetic diversity around 29,7%. A decrease of 8,8% in genetic diversity. You don’t get them much lower than that! Obviously a very bad idea.
Grandparent – grandchild mating increases the COI with 12,5%. We take the profile of Chelles of Macadamia (39,2%) again and this time we will select her grandfather So Out Coon’s Mirai (38,5%). Both cats have a very good genetic diversity. The expected genetic diversity of their kittens will be around 34,9%. A decrease of nearly 3,95% in genetic diversity in just one generation. It seems a small number and small step, but don't take a few percent very lightly. It takes you straight to the other side of the chart. Remember the bandwidth of the tested Maine Coon population is only 14% (between 28-42%), so a decrease of 3,95% means you will lose 28% of their genetic diversity in one step!
Note that mycatdna database doesn't keep track of any family relationships. The prediction of the genetic diversity for the offspring is purely based by comparing the genomes. If the predicted genetic diversity is lower than both parents, it means their genomes is mostly the same (and they are probably related).
At the genetic relations map of the testresults you can see all the cats of the breed and how they cluster together when their genomes have similarities. Think of this: when you have a Maine Coon with a high genetic diversity, lets say 40%, but it is shown in the graphic in the middle of the blue cluster of dots. It means you will have a hard time finding a good match to further improve genetic diversity, since most of the other cats are close to yours and share most of the same DNA. You will have to look for lines in the outer areas to find unrelated matches, to continue a high genetic diversity for future generations.
Surprisingly the graphic below shows that the domestic long hairs and the Maine Coon mixed cats are all in the same yellow cluster. Showing that their DNA is different from the Maine Coon breed, but within this mixed-breed-category there is not very much diversity at all.
Also notice that the Polydactyl Maine Coons (pink dots) seems to be very diverse. The Polydactyls are registered as a separate breed into Mycatdna and has its own median of 35,9%, which is 1,4% higher than a non-poly Maine Coon (34,5%).
Genetic diversity correlated to the Clones
How is the genetic diversity related to the clones? We know that a high clone percentage means you have a lot of the same ancestors (clones and behind them the top 5). When you don't know about the clones, please read more about it in my article "The influence of the clones" first.
Look at the chart below. When you are breeding outcross cats by keeping the clones below 20%, the cats will most likely all have a genetic diversity higher than 36%. On average they are even higher than 38%. Which is very good news and proof for every outcross breeder, that you are indeed working on a higher genetic diversity with outcross lines. Of course you already knew that, but it is good to have some proof!
Knowing that the average clone percentage is around 35%, this chart shows that the majority of these cats are on the left side of the chart, having a genetic diversity below 35%.
So I think we can say that there is a correlation between the genetic diversity and the clones. What fascinates me is the question why these lines are more curved? The previous chart of the COI showed a more straight line. I haven't found an answer yet.
Genetic diversity per country
This is a fun chart, but it is also the least reliable chart of all. Since some of the countries only have very few cats tested we can’t really jump into conclusions yet. This chart shows only the countries which have a 3 cats minimum inside the public database. This chart is based on Population C*. The country where the cat was born (and where the breeder is located) is the country where the cat is counted for.
The black line shows how many cats it contains and therefor you get a more reliable picture for the countries that have more cats tested.
As expected, the Maine Coons with the highest genetic diversity are found in the US, as New Foundation cats that bring new genes all come from the US (or CA). But you can see that they also have quite a lot of cats with a lower genetic diversity, which is most likely caused by American breeders importing less diverse cats from overseas.
You can also see that Sweden is doing very well keeping the genetic diversity high. Of all the countries on the left side, Russia sticks out with a lower genetic diversity of on average 33%. During my research I have noticed that most of the Russian cats who are in the mycatdna database are now owned by American breeders, which will probably bring the genetic diversity down within their breeding programs. This can be seen in future tested generations from US breeders.
If you take out the countries that has less than 12 cats tested, you are left with the top 5 countries that have the most cats tested within mycatdna. This chart is based on Population D*.
The genetic diversity shows to be a promising new indicator. Since chance also plays a part how the genes are inherited by the offspring, it is less predictable than the usual indicators as COI, Clones and Top5. It could be more challenging to integrate this into your breedingprogram. With low inbreeding levels you are aiming for higher diversity, but with this test you will actually KNOW the cat's genetic diversity. This test is factual and therefor more reliable than the other indicators, so it certainly has a lot of value. The mycatdna website gives us breeders the opportunity to keep track of the genetic health of the whole breed.
Of course we mustn’t stare blind on the diversity alone though, diversity doesn’t necessary means the cat has healthy genes. You could still end up with a high genetically diverse cat who inherited the wrong genes that messes things up. Also the genetic information should never replace any HCM/PKD test by echo, HD/PL test or other clinical health checks carried out by a veterinarian or specialist. This DNA test is only a small part of the total health tests that a breeder is recommended to do for a Maine Coon.
But I must say I am a fan of this test and very enthusiastic about the positive impact that the breeding tool can have in the future, especially when more cats are added. It could be fun (or scary, depending the direction it is heading) to follow the trends for the upcoming years.
Population and source
On the website of mycatdna, I’ve took the whole population of Maine Coons (polydactyl included) from the public cats. There are many more Maine Coons tested but their profile can’t be seen by me, so I could only work with the public cats. On January 22th, 2020 the population of public Maine Coons were 288 testresults. From those cats, I have checked their pedigree in the Pawpeds database to search for information on COI, inbreeding of 5, 10 generations and the Clones. I could find 212 of the cats in the Pawpedsdatabase. From those 212 cats I also noted their country of birth. For the 76 cats that were not found in Pawpeds, their mycatdna profile gave me information on the country of birth.
*Used populations shown in the charts in this article:
Population A: 288 Maine Coons Total public Maine Coon profiles on mycatdna.com at 22-01-2020 (polydactyl included)
Population B: 212 Maine Coons Population A minus the 76 cats that could not be found in the Pawpeds database
Population C: 277 Maine Coons Population A minus the cats that were born in countries where only one or two cats are published
Population D: 221 Maine Coons Population A minus the cats that were born in countries where less than 12 cats are published
MyCatDNA by Genoscoper Revolutionary genetic screening
In this article, I will give you a tour in MyCatDNA, below you got a link for order tests and a short introduction. This is a very complete test but it will take a while to get the answers, so make sure you do the test in time, I normally do it almost directly when I get the kitten home or decided who to stay.
Wait and you will receive a test-kit, this can take a little while.
When you get your test-kit and are ready to do the test on the cat, read the instructions well!
Don't forget to first activate your test-kit and to write down the activation code on the paper.
Do the test (some associations demand that you got the test verified by a veterinarian in this case you need to go to a veterinarian with your test-kit so that they can do the test and sign the papers). If you do not need this you can do it your self, just follow the instructions to avoid contamination.
Put the code-stickers on each of the swabs to seal them and also one on the paper, put it all in the envelope.
Send it to the lab.
Wait and you will get an e-mail when the lab received your test.
After a couple of weeks 3-6, you will receive an e-mail telling you that your results are ready.
Logon to MyCatDNA and have a look at your results.
When you first get to one of your cats you will see a summary Three samples will be shown below with short descriptions but first some configurations you should do.
If you click on your cats name, you will get a Summary of the cat like below. The heart is the Breedertool and the cat inbetween 1 and 2 I will get back to later.
Manage sharing, look at next picture for more detailed information about this one.
Print out a report, you can get the results in a PDF, which you can print out or save on your computer, this is what you should send in to PawPeds for example if you like PK, SMA and HCM registered.
Here you can type in some information of the cat, personally I write my webpage and a link to the pedigree since I think thats most useful if someone want to get in contact with me.
When you first get your results, your cat will not be public.
Check this box to make your cats results public for all users to view.
Below is some links to share the results first is by e-mail with a link, second is a link to add to your homepage, fb, or other places, the last one is a way to share directly on FB I actually never tried that one I always use the middle option.
This is what it looks like when you first get into your cat, if the cat is free from any genetic risk.
If there is a genetic risk detected you will see that in the first summary, you can also go in under Disorders to see more about the risk, but it also says directly which risk was detected, like in this picture below. This male carries one copy of the gene for PK and are not in the risk of being affected, he might carry on the gene to his offsprings who will not be sick eighter as long as he is not mated to a female who is also a carrier and the offspring will get two copies.
If there is a trait detected that means the cat is at risk for a disease you will see this on the first page for your cat in the disorder square.
When you get to one of your cat's pages and click on disorders you will see a list but also a square at the very top telling you if there are any risks detected. You will see the disorders relevant for you breed at the top, and then new discovered disorders that potentially will be a risk within your breed and then at the bottom a green square with a plus-sign to the right, if you click there you can see all disorders relevant for other breeds and the result for your cat, there should be no surprises here, but it's good that we do get them, you never know.
As you can see below this cat are not at risk for any of the tested known disorders and at the very bottom the green square for disorders relevant for other breeds.
Green is no risk detected Orange means the cat is a carrier Red means the cat is affected or at risk of being affected
Here you got a cat that is a carrier, this cat is a carrier of PK, he will not be affected but he might carry on this gene to his kittens so it's important to not mate this cat to another carrier.
In this picture you can see a cat that is at risk for a disease, this is how it looks in that case.
When you are in the disorder section and you see the list of disorders, you can click on the row, when you see an arrow down to the right and a bit more info will fold out, you will also see a link to a PDF-document containing more info about the disease. When you fold out a disease you will also get some more information about the severity, how it's inherited and some percentage regarding carriers.
This cat is A-type and is not carrying any b-type.
This is a cat carrying b-type, this cat might carry on the b-type to the kittens but there will never be any trouble.
Here is a cat who is blood type B, if it's a female, the kittens need to be prevented for nursing from their mother the first 16 hours after the birth to avoid problems.
As for the disorder you got an arrow down at the right sight of the line with the Blood Type, you can fold out this line so read more about the blood type. Here you can get information about the frequency within the breed and within all cats.
Statistics of the Maine Coon Breed
N/N - A Type
N/b - B Carrier
b/b - B Type
From cats entered in MyCatDNA (At day for article = 333 tested cats) 2020-04-09
There are still some traits that cannot yet be tested for at any lab, even though research is ongoing for many of them. Some of the traits which we cannot test for are: Silver Different patterns, like Classic Tabby, Mackerel, Spotted, Ticked and Wideband (golden/shaded/shell) There is ongoing research for many of these so maybe we will get a test in the future.
The tests we can get answers to is:
Color Locus B: Chocolate and Cinnamon Color Locus C: Pointed Coloration and Albinism Color Locus A: Agouti and Charcoal White Gloves of Birman Cats Color Locus E: Russet Color Locus E: Amber Color Locus D: Dilution (Blue and Creme) Color Dominant White and White Spotting (KIT-Gene)
Lets continue to the Coat Color section, when you first get there you will see a list of all traits and also same arrows to the right as on other pages.
As you can se below there are three coat types but but also four different longhair types. In our Maine Coon we mainly see M3 or M4 sometimes one of each and so on.
Curly Coat in Selkirk Rex
Curly Coat in Cornish and German Rex cats
In the Maine Coon the statistics between the different longhair types in the breed. The (N) you can see does not mean the cat is shorthair, but there seem to be types of longhair still not covered by the test.
From cats entered in MyCatDNA (At day for article = 333 tested cats) 2020-04-09
There are today three mutations that are tested you will se them below.
In the tab Genetic Diversity you can see where your cat are when it comes to genetic diversity within the breed and you could also check the box "My other cats within breed" to compare your own cats. Though this is depending on all other cats tested with MyCatDNA so every cat will change the outcome of all other cats. This also means that if the majority of the cats is from the same lines and one cat from completely different line, this cat will get a much higher genetic diveristy then the other cats so it does not really show the truth within the breed yet. It probably will if or when enough cats within the breed been tested and added.
Every tested cat shows as a dot in this graph, you can see you own cat as a blue circle. This graph shows how closely related the different breeds in the selected group seem to be, cats with similar genomes cluster together, distance from other cats that differ in genetic makeup, if you hold the mouse and drag it over you can see names of the different cats in the cluster. And if you click you will get to the page of the cat you see.
This will also be something that developes over time as more cats will be added.
While the breeder tool is really interesting there is a need for breeders to remember to update their cats when they become neutered for this to be really valuable, and to add descriptions and possibly link to their homepages. If not there will be really hard to contact the owner if a really good match are discovered. This can be a really good tool for all breeders. Below is a screenshot for one of my cats.
At last I want to get back to the beginning, you remember the cat at the top, the one between sharing and print out pdf.
This one is useful if you for some reason want to move the cat, maybe you do the test on a kitten who will later on move to another breeder. Then you can easily move the result to that breeder. Just klick on the cat and fill in the mail-adress to the person who you want to move the cat to, click submit and it's done.
I hope you enjoyed this article, there is a lot more to cover but I think at least i managed to cover the basics.
The Maine coon cat is a healthy cat in general, but as in other cat breeds, there are some genetic diseases that we should be aware of.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, HCM, is a heart disease that occurs in several cat breeds, including Maine coon. It manifests itself by thickening the walls of the heart, causing difficulties for the blood to pass through the heart. By ultrasound examination, the disease can be detected, but there is, unfortunately, no cure. The cat dies sooner or later of heart failure or blood clot.
Since the disease is progressive, it often develops when the cat is a few years old. Usually, HCM is detected in a cat at 2-3 years of age, but it may take longer before the disease occurs. This is why it’s so important to remember that a heart test when the cat is very young does not guarantee anything, the cat can develop the disease later. I often see cats with only one HCM-test at about 1 year of age.
How the disease is inherited is not discovered yet. Some science shows that it has to do with a dominant gene with incomplete penetrance. If this is true future science will tell.
By doing regular ultrasound examinations on the cats in the breeding stock, we reduce the risk that the predisposition for HCM will continue down the generations. Since January 2004 Maine Coon-katten runs the Health program against HCM. (Since a couple of years back Pawpeds runs all the administrative tasks).
If you own a dog you probably recognize the designation HD – Hip Dysplasia.
This genetic defect is present even in cats. Maine Coon breeders all over the world have since many years back found HD in the breed and take action to minimize the presence of the disease.
Hips with degree 3 – Severe HD
HD means a defect on the hips so that the hip bullet does not fit right into the hip socket. On the picture to the right, the hip bullets are almost completely outside the hip sockets, which is very shallow. This is the most severe degree of HD. Cats with mild HD can live without having any problems, while severe HD could mean difficulties for the cat to move around and also pain and inflammations in the joint. It is possible to operate a cat who has a lot of problems with their HD and the result is almost always good. HD is graded on a scale from Normal to degree 3 (Severe HD). Breeding on degree 1 is ok as long as the other party has Normal on both hips.
In January 2000 the Swedish breed association Maine Coon-katten started a register for HD to mapping the presence of HD. Responsible breeders x-ray there cats earliest at 10 months of age, but before first mating and send the x-rays to Per Eksell for examination. Per is a specialist in the area. Per then sends in the results to the HD-register.
Results and statistics from the healthprogram is published regularly. Below is some examples from the register (2012):
Cats Tested: 2988
Offsprings from parents, both with unknown hipstatus:
Offsprings from parents, both with known normal hipstatus:
Normal: 1902 (63.7%)
Borderline: 127 (4.3%)
Degree 1: 571 (19.1%)
Degree 2: 295 (9.9%)
Degree 3: 93 (3.1%)
Normal: 650 (58.9%)
Borderline: 43 (3.9%)
Degree 1: 221 (20.0%)
Degree 2: 139 (12.6%)
Degree 3: 50 (4.5%)
Normal: 454 (76.0%)
Borderline: 22 (3.7%)
Degree 1: 82 (13.7%)
Degree 2: 32 (5.4%)
Degree 3: 7 (1.2%)
(Earlier we did had borderline, this one is now longer used).
New statistics from 2019 on the bottom you can see the parent's results and the stack in the diagram is the results of the offsprings. As you can see if you mate Normal-Normal about 70% become normal you got about 20% having an old degree borderline or degree 1 and only about 10% got degrees 2 or 3. While if you look at the stack where the parents are of unknown status, somewhere around 55-58% become Normal while about 25-28% something got old degree Borderline or degree one and almost 20% got degree 2 or 3.
HD is as far as we know inherited recessive, polygenetic. This means two cats with normal hips can get an offspring with HD and the other way around two cats with HD actually could have got an offspring with normal hips. It is therefore important to do the x-ray on every generation to minimize the risk of HD. In the dog-breeding society this selective breeding has led to a drastic dip in the presence of HD.
There are three blood types in cats A, B and AB. The most common blood type is A, which is dominant and is present in all breeds. Bloodtype B is relatively common in some breeds.
Do we really need to blood type our Maine Coons? A couple of years ago I would have said no, absolutely not, there is no point in doing that. BUT then the thing is it has started to appear B-type carriers as it seems recently a lot of them. Apparently some study on Turkish Van says that it is better to have some b-carriers then only A for some reason.
To get a B-blood female is pretty hard so personally, my opinion is to try to avoid this to happen.
Blood type A, B, AB and also A(b) by DNA will be able to add to PawPed. To avoid misunderstandings regarding the results from the blood test (serological test) versus DNA-test the international alternatives below have been added to Pawpeds.
N/N (not a carrier of blood-group B)
A/A not a carrier of blood-group B
N/b (carrier of blood-group B)
A/b carrier of blood-group B
b/b (homozygous for blood-group B) the cat has blood-type B
N = Normal
Statistics from 2010:
Statistics from 2018 (Cats tested with MyCatDNA):
Type N/b or A/b
(These statistics were collected before I tested my female who is actually b-blood so the Type B is no longer completely 0%)