The Washington Post reports that scientists have discovered what makes Lil Bub, a celebrity cat, so “magical.”
An international team of molecular biologists studied the cat’s genome to unlock its secrets. Dario Lupianez is a co-author on the paper about Lil Bub’s genetics.
Lil Bub has a talk show, a stage production, 2 million followers on Instagram, an album, and a book. Lupianez’s paper reveals the DNA behind Lil Bub’s magical appearance. Lil Bub has a short snout, big green eyes, and a pink tongue. She never developed teeth and weighs about four pounds. She has an extra toe on each of her paws, as well.
“We can definitely say she’s magical,” said Lupianez. “I remember the moment when we first saw her on the Skype video and we were just like, ‘Uhhhhh.’ ”
Lupianez partnered on the project with a fellow Berlin resident, Daniel Ibrahim, and University of Pennsylvania’s Orsolya Symmons. The three of them spent four years sequencing the cat’s genome.
Lupianez and Ibrahim were both working in a genetics lab studying bone disorders and limb malformations. Ibrahim said that when he first saw Lil Bub, he realized that “this was similar to what we see in patients, except this was a cat.”
The two asked Lil Bub’s owner, Mike Bridavsky, if they could sequence the cat’s genome. Bridavsky didn’t hesitate to send a blood sample.
“She’s quite literally one in infinity, you could say, as far as a genetic anomaly,” Bridavsky said of the Lil Bub, who he found in a tool shed soon after her birth in 2011. “I personally was convinced that they would find that her DNA was not from our planet, which is what I was hoping for, or there was some crazy prehistoric DNA — that she was part dinosaur.”
The researchers found that Lil Bub’s polydactyly, the term for her extra toes, resulted from the same mutation that caused Ernest Hemingway’s cats to have six-toes. This means that Bub is somehow related to Hemingway’s famous cats.
The researches knew that “everything else that makes Bub so unique — the cute little face, the osteopetrosis, the tiny body size — is probably due to another mutation,” said Ibrahim.
They found that she had a mutation in a gene called RANK/TNFRSF11A. The mutation has previously been found in about 15 humans and a mouse. This adds up to a new case study for a rare disorder, meaning that Lil Bub could help doctors better treat those whose osteoporosis comes from the same gene mutation.
“I think Bub is here for a reason, and I thought that something could come out of sequencing her DNA for medical research and for science,” Bridavsky said.
“And that’s exactly what happened.”