Today cats can be divided genetically into four broad groups: those from Europe, the Mediterranean, East Africa and Asia.
But Lyons and her colleagues also made surprising discoveries about individual breeds. “We wanted to see whether breeds actually came from what was thought to be their geographical origins,” Lyons said.
The Japanese bobtail, for example, does not seem genetically similar to cats from Japan, indicating the breed may have originated elsewhere. “Either it didn’t originate in Japan or there’s been so much Western influence that they have lost their initial genetic signal,” Lyons said.
Despite its name, the Persian, the oldest recognized breed, looks as though it actually arose in Western Europe and not Persia, which today is Iran.
Some breeds differ by only a gene or two — too little to distinguish them, really — and many breeds are severely inbred — although many are not.