New Coat Color Gene Discovered In Thai Cats
By Dr.Douglas Schar and Nolan Betterly
Normal people would not know this(count me out) but there are genetic tests for cats. This is very helpful to cat breeders such as myself because it allows you to predict outcomes of litters, study the relationship between health and genetics, and other catty things which would only appeal to, say someone who breeds cats. And this whole article may only appeal to someone really into cats, but, it is a story I am working on, and, I want to tell the story. Not only is it a story I am working on, it is a research project I am working on.
The story is about a new coat color gene that me and my partner in crime, Nolan Bettterly, accidentally identified or discovered, however you want to describe it. We came across this new gene quite accidentally. Really quite accidentally.
As ever with me, nothing goes according to plan, and things always take a turn for the weird. I start working on one project, and it morphs into a whole new project. Such is really the case here.
When I decided to breed Burmese cats I discovered that the breed was the most inbred cat in the world and had the most imperiled health as a result. It was on a crash course for extinction, one expert told me. I knew Burmese cats came from Thailand and if we needed new genetics, then we needed to get them from Thailand. I decided to import cats from Thailand to correct the inbreeding problem. Sounds straight forward enough, a breed started with Thai cats, that had been inbred for 100 years, needed some new blood. All perfectly manageable.
Along the way, I learned a lot about Thai Cat genetics. When you get them genetically tested for coat color, the result comes in a code, a series of letters that mean something to someone who knows what they mean. Once you learn the secret meaning behind the code, you can look at the code, and know what kind of cat you are dealing with. Here are a few examples.
BB cbcb DD= this genetic formulae is what you find with a sable Burmese cat
BB cscs DD= this genetic formulae is what you find with a seal point Siamese cat.
BB cbcs DD= this genetic formuae is what you find with a natural mink Tonkinese.
In any case, when you test a Thai cats genetically, you get a formulae from the lab, like those listed above, and over time, you learn what those codes mean. And, I tested a lot of cats. The flip side is also true. If I was having a sable Burmese cat tested, I knew that the result would be something like BB cbcb DD. Codes indicate cats, and cats indicate genetic codes.
You need to know all that information for what follows…….
So I was happily testing my cats coat color genetics, American Burmese and cats from Thailand, and over time, I rather got the handle of it. When I had a cat tested, I had a good idea of what the testing would reveal.
My whole cat breeding operation was made possible by Nolan Betterly, and his girlfriend Bew of Bangkok Thailand. They found and sent me cats to be used in my breeding program. I mean they literally found me cats in Thailand, and sent them on airplanes to me in Washington, DC. These two people are saints in my book and they have done more for Thai cats in America than anybody I know.
So, one day Nolan contacts me and says that he rescued a Tortie mother cat, and her three kittens, and would I like them. The mom was a tortie, and there were two sable kittens and one tortie kitten. All girls. Sounded good to me. And he sent me the following pictures of the mom and her adorable daughters.
The back story was that Nolan got a call from a warf manager who said there was a mother cat and three kittens, and, he feared they would be eaten by local workers if they were not collected. He and Bew rushed off into the night to save the cats, and ultimately, send them to me
So, Nolan sent me the four cats and once they got here, I did what I do, which is I had them tested genetically to find out a little more about them.
And that is when the boom dropped. When I got the results of their tests, I thought there had been a mistake. The three daughters, all clearly brown, tested as genetically solid black cats. I had the testing done at UC Davis genetics lab, and immediately contacted them to say there was some kind of mistake. They must have sent me the wrong results. Because, these three cats tested were not black cats but their genetics test results indicated black cats. In short, UC Davis Feline Genetics lab's response was no response. They never got back to me. I contacted them, said, whats up with this test result, and they ignored my calls and my notes. A great lab but their customer service could use a little help.
Everybody makes a mistake and I thought they had just made a mistake with the test. But, since they never responded to my questions regarding the peculiar test results, I had to go elsewhere to figure out what was going on.
So, now I have three brown cats from Thailand, that tested out as genetically black cats, none of this makes any sense, and I don't know what to do. Nolan and I were discussing this and he suggested I try a lab in England, they might be more responsive.
Needless to say, I was perplex and I wanted some answers. So I sent genetic samples for the three"black" to the genetics lab at Langford in England. Once again, all three cats tested as solid black cats. To my very pleasant surprise, when I called Langford, they actually took my call. I explained the situation, that the three cats tested were not black cats, they were brown cats, and I was confused. I was referred to a specialist, a Dr.Helps, who was beyond fabulous in helping me understand the situation. He explained that the cats carried a mutation that was not picked up by the current genetic test. Clearly the cats were not black, and the test was giving a false reading of "black cat". In his estimation, the cats possessed a coat color mutation as of yet undetected by the scientific community. When you test these cats, you get a reading that indicates a black cat, but in fact, it is not a black cat but a false reading. So, I thought it would be fun to follow the story as it developed through the generation in pictures.
BROWN CATS THAT TEST AS GENETICALLY BLACK CATS: A POSSIBLE NEW COAT COLOR GENE IDENTIFIED IN THAI CATS
So, as you can see, these three daughters were a lot of things, but black is not one of them.
There are several things we can learn from this part of the story. The mother gave birth to three daughters who test out as black cats. However, she herself tests normally as a Tonkinese cat(cbcs). Her daughters were all BB Ccb Dd or genetically black cats. This suggests that the big C is not really a big C, it just appears like a big C when tested using the currently available genetic tests.
The big C found in the middle of the three daughters genetic equation is probably a whole new gene that has yet to be identified. But, whatever that gene is, the mother did not carry it, so, the father must have contributed that gene to these three daughters. What the gene is, will only be discovered with time. But, only one parent has to carry the gene for it be passed to the next generation.
And, subsequent breedings have revealed that whatever it is, can be passed by one parent onto their children. The reason I say this is because Pamela, whose genetic formulae is BB Ccb Dd, when mated to a standard natural male tonkinese(BB cbcs DD) produced kittens that carried the same mutation.
BB the Siamese-Bangkok Bb cscm DD
BB Ccb Dd
Maude the Burmese-Bangkok BB cbcm Dd
The Lori Luckenbaugh Cats
Lori Luckenbaugh decided to do her part for the American breeds and imported two street cats from Thailand. Nolan, ever helpful, found two brown cats for her and sent them off to her in Pennsylvania. Well, she was in for a quite shock. Her two very brown Thai Burmese street cats, tested as genetically black cats. More black, not black cats! This would be a rinse and repeat story. She contacted Davis Veterinary Genetics Lab, and told them, hey, my cats are not black.
The amazing part is that Nolan had sent her two street cats, from different parts of Bangkok, and as luck would have it, they would both be "black not black cats" . Her are some pictures of the pair of "black cats".
So, you could conclude that these cats that flunk their genetic tests, and test as black cats, posses a different gene in the middle of their genetic equation, the big C is really another gene. And, that is possible. There is clearly something going on that is not being properly detected by the genetic tests currently available.
But, it gets even more complicated that that. While it is true that the kittens that test out as genetically black cats, that are not black cats, have a predictable unusual coat and eye color, there is another peculiar fact. They also give birth to cats with the peculiar coat and eye color that do test out normally. Let's take a look at the mother and daughter one. They are virtually identical when you see them in person, only upon genetic testing would you know that something was amiss.
Lilac and Diva
Lori sent me two of Amano and Marin's daughters, Lilac and Diva. From all all outward appearances, brown cats. But, once again we have brown cats that test out as genetically black cats. They should be black cats but they are not. Below you can see Lilac, who is clearly not a black cat.
Sarah the Champagne Burmese-Bangkok bb cbcm Dd
ALL OF THESE CATS ARE GENETICALLY BLACK AND YET THEY ARE NOT BLACK!
BB Ccb Dd
BB Ccb DD
So, this is the matriarch of this whole line of cats, and she is genetically a very straight forward Tonkinese. Her genetic tests results indicate she is BB cbcs Dd. Nothing remarkable here. But, as you will see, her daughters, are a whole different story. The presence of a big C in the middle of the genetic formulae would cause the cat to become black in appearance. When you have a big C in the middle, you get a black cat. As you will see, her three daughters all have a Big C, and none of them are black.
The Mystery of the “Not Black Cat” Finally Resolved
So, as I said, I sent out DNA samples for three very brown imported Thai cats to UC Davis Feline Testing lab. Their DNA report indicated they were black cats. I called them and said, hey, they are not black cats. Davis said they would get back to me, and, well, ten years later, I am still waiting for a call from them. I sent the same samples to the English University, Langford, and they very professionally not only got back to me, they gave me some useful information. Theysaid “your cats are obviously not black cats, they just possess a mutation for which there is no test. And, they went on to say that as the “new” mutation was rather rare, like I had the only three cats known to have it, and there was not much interest in cat coat color research, the nature of the mutation would likely remain a mystery.
Nolan Betterly, Bew Panacharat, and I funded research in Thailand, through the administration of Nolan Betterly, to identify this new cat color gene. We felt that it would nice if a Thai University identified and named the new mutation. It was a Thai coat color mutation, and it would be nice if a Thai university could get credit for identifying it.
But, before that research could come to fruition, a group of American researchers identified the new mutation. From what I gather, some of the Lori Luckenbaugh cats descendants and their DNA found its way to a group of researchers who in turn did identify this coat color gene. They named the new coat color gene Mocha and is indicated by the abbreviation cm. So… the mystery of my “black cats not black cats” was solved.
Though the gene is named Mocha, I prefer to use our original name. Bangkok. Nolan Betterly and Bew Panacharat rescued the first three in Bangkok. Since the first three ever discovered were found in Bangkok it seems only right they should be called Bangkoks. In Thailand, they are called WilaKrung Thep. Officially, they should be called WilaKrung Thep/ Bangkoks. I am just going to call them Bangkoks because its simpler.
So, I have been working with Bangkoks for sometime and have observed how the gene behaves. And, the longer I work with it, the more I understand why it went undetected previously. While its true a cat that inherits two copies of the Bangkok gene, has a distinctive look, one that you would NOT mistake for a Siamese or a Burmese, it is also true that double cm cats are rare. In Thailand, most cats breed themselves, and, the liklihood of to Bangkok carrying cats finding each other, is pretty unlikely. So, full Bangkoks(cmcm) are not something you will see in great numbers in Thailand.
In Thai cats, you are more likely to find cats that carry one Siamese gene and one Bangkok gene(Sia-Bangs), or one Burmese gene and Bangkok gene(Bur-Bangs). And when the cm gene is paired to either a Siamese gene or a Burmese gene, the cats tend to look like off colored Burmese or Siamese.
As I have been working with them some time, I can now spot an “off colored” cat as a cat that carry the Bangkok gene. Previously, I would have just thought the
were light sable Burmese or heavily pointed Siamese.
We know have Burmese-Bangkok cats, Siamese-Bangkok cats, and full Bangkok cats. We also have Burmese-Bangkoks in champagne, blue, and platinum. Soon we will have full Bangkoks in champagne, blue, and platinum.
In the near future, we will have Bangkoks in blue, champagne, and platinum! Who knows what they will look like. But, stay tuned as this story develops. Check back and you can see how this newly identified coat color gene looks when combined with the other coat color genes found in Thailand
Genetics: BB cbcs Dd
Does that look like a black cat to you? Well, her genetic coat color test, which was done at two separate labs, came back as BB Ccb Dd, which should indicate a full on black cat. Having this little kitten in my lap, and reading a lab report that said, black cat, I was totally perplexed.
And Another Thing: Bangkoks Have Crazy Beautiful Eye Color
One of the really unique feature of this group of cats is their eye color. Firstly, you find coat color and eye color combinations you don't usually see. Classically, Siamese cats (BB cscs DD) have blue eyes. In this group of cats, you will find classically sable Burmese cats with bluer than blue eyes. But, beyond this, they have beautiful eyes. The coat color, which probably stems from a as of yet to be discovered coat color gene, is interesting from a scientific perspective, but, when it comes to looking at the cats, they are not that much different than the standard fare currently available…. Siamese, Tonkinese, and Burmese. But what really distinguishes these cats, in my opinion, is their beautiful eyes. I have seen a lot of cats, but, I have never seen such beautiful eyes. Have a look.
The more we bred these cats, the more clear it became that not only did they carry a gene for which there was not test, but, they also presented coat colors that you don't usually see, and often times eye colors that you don't see associated with those coat colors. If you look at daughter two, with her sable coat, and her electric blue eyes, clearly you are seeing an unusual coat and eye color combination. This is often the case with the kittens that test as black kittens, but, are not black. They have an unusual look.