Writing in the journal Nature Communications, scientists in South Korea - along with colleagues as far flung as Namibia, India and Mongolia - have analysed the genomes of a number of big cats, including the tiger, lion and snow leopard. The results reveal how the animals have evolved to be predatory killing machines that thrive on meaty diets. To date, the only cat to have had its genome analysed was the domestic moggy, which shares more than 95% of its genes with a tiger.
The researchers read DNA taken from animals living in zoos, creating a reference sequence that other big cats around the world can be compared against. The scientists hope that their work will support conservation efforts, allowing researchers to look at genetic diversity in big cat populations. Fewer than 4,000 tigers are thought to survive in the wild, so the new data could help zoos plan their breeding programmes to help maintain diversity.