When Did Cats Become Companion Animals?

Is that a mouse? Image source: morgueFile.

I am unabashedly a cat person, heavily influenced, I suspect, by the ever-fluctuating population of cats that roamed the family farm. Most of these outdoor cats were skittish around humans, but sometimes there were friendly female cats with a litter of kittens that were fun to chase, pick up and stroke. While the farm’s clowder of cats would eagerly await table scraps my mom would put out in the evening, there was plenty of opportunity for the felines to hunt vermin around the farm. It is this function—rodent control—that may be the reason that many of us share our homes with cats. One hypothesis to explain the association between cats and humans is rodents were stealing from human grain stores and cats could control rodent populations. However, there was not much data to confirm this hypothesis. Recent archeological evidence from China seems to support this view of cat domestication as reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Continue reading “When Did Cats Become Companion Animals?”

About the Wild Life in Our Homes (at least the single-celled kind)

The initial paper from the Wild Life in Our Homes study by Dunn et al. found a correlation between the presence of dogs and specific bacterial communities on pillowcases and TV screens.
The initial paper from the Wild Life in Our Homes study by Dunn et al. found a correlation between the presence of dogs and specific bacterial communities on pillowcases and TV screens.

Back in the fall, I received a sampling kit, an Informed Consent form and instructions for collecting samples for the Wild Life In Our Homes citizen science project. I carefully swabbed the requested surfaces: exterior and interior door trim, kitchen counter tops, pillowcases, etc., and sent my samples in. I later received confirmation that my samples had been received and again later confirmation that they were being analyzed.

The first paper from this project has been published by Dunn et al. in PLOS ONE (Home Life: Factors Structuring the Bacterial Diversity Found within and between Homes). This initial report covers the first 40 homes sampled, all from the Raleigh-Durham, NC, USA area. Volunteers sampled their homes in the Fall of 2011, collecting specimens from nine areas: cutting boards, kitchen counters, refrigerator, toilet seat, pillowcase, door handle, TV screen, and interior and exterior door trim. The scientists used direct PCR and high-throughput sequencing to sequence the bacterial 16S rRNA gene from the submitted samples. By doing this they were able to estimate the diversity within each sample—they did not distinguish between live and dead organisms, and they did not sequence anything other than the bacterial 16SrRNA, so this study is limited to bacteria. Continue reading “About the Wild Life in Our Homes (at least the single-celled kind)”

Cats, Brains and Computers: A Dangerous Cocktail?

Hoagy: runs hot on kibble.
I read, with great interest (and not a small amount of humor), a recent press release from the University of Michigan, about development of a computer similar to the cat brain. The research published in Nano Letters in April: “Nanoscale Memristor Device as Synapse in Neuromorphic System” (1).

A skeptic, I went immediately to the whys and hows of such an undertaking. Continually amazed at my cats’ bizarre yet occasionally functional behavior (presumably directed by their brains, although one often wonders), the thought of using such a brain to model a computer brought feelings of amazement…and perhaps, concern. Continue reading “Cats, Brains and Computers: A Dangerous Cocktail?”

Cats Rule? Maybe. Maybe Not

Ah, that age-old question: which is the better pet, cats or dogs?  The good folks at the New Scientist ran some tests to try to answer the question once and for all.

Personally, I like everything with fur and four legs, so neither outcome would be disappointing. For those of you who feel strongly, read on at your own risk.

And the winner is?

Dogs vs cats: The great pet showdown

Cats: Good for Your Health?

Calliope and AthenaI have been an avowed cat lover since I was a child surrounded by an ever-changing variety of farm cats. When I attended graduate school, I acquired my first cat, a calico I named Athena, followed shortly by my tortoiseshell Calliope. Because Athena wanted my attention immediately after returning from the lab, Calliope was partially acquired to entertain Athena. Much of this “entertainment” consisted of Athena asserting her dominance over the interloper.

Based on conversations I had during graduate school, I learned that more of my fellow graduate students seemed to acquire cats than any other companion animal. Continue reading “Cats: Good for Your Health?”