Wednesday 24 March 2021

Should we genetically engineer cats to curb their urge to kill?

Not long ago I proposed genetically engineering feral cats to make them infertile as an alternative to TNR programs which includes spaying and neutering. But it might be a better idea to genetically engineer feral cats. That would seem to be a more elegant way to control the feral cat population. I don't know whether it's been discussed but what is also being discussed is genetically engineering cats to modify their behaviour, to stop their urge to kill.

Photo: Pixabay

That would mean altering the most fundamental aspect of a cat's behaviour which is to hunt, stalk, attack, kill and eat prey animals. In the case of domestic cats that usually means small mammals such as voles, mice and even rats occasionally (plus reptiles, birds and insects). I'm not sure if it is viable. I'm not a good enough scientist to decide how you'd go about doing that.

The obvious initial downside is animal testing. I can see animal testing taking place which would be cruel. I could not justify it. I don't believe that any animl testing is ethically and justifiable today. It is time to stop it.

You can achieve character changes to a certain extent by selective breeding. This is breeding through artificial selection so you only select those cats which are very passive and mild mannered with a known trait of a disinterest in hunting. That might be hard to believe but some domestic cat hardly hunt at all whereas others are obsessed with it such as my cat!

The average domestic cat will certainly enjoy hunting to a certain extent but it would seem fair to suggest that we could select the least motivated hunters and selectively breed from them to the point where you only had domestic cats that were disinterested in what should be their primary activity: hunting.

Brief research tells me that that scientists genetically engineer animals by introducing a beneficial gene into their DNA. I suppose, therefore, it would mean scientist deciding which genes and on which chromosomes behavioural traits such as hunting are located. 

Then they could remove those genes and replace them with the genes of a cat with known traits including a disinterest in hunting. I'm guessing wildly at this point. But the concept of genetically engineering cats to modify their behaviour to eliminate hunting is fascinating but it seems to be a bridge too far at this stage. What do you think?

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