Biology Faculty Articles


Genomic Adaptations and Evolutionary History of the Extinct Scimitar-Toothed Cat, Homotherium latidens


Ross Barnett, Københavns Universitet
Michael V. Westbury, Københavns Universitet
Marcela Sandoval-Velasco, Københavns Universitet
Filipe Garrett Vieira, Københavns Universitet
Sungwon Jeon, Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology
Grant Zazula, Government of Yukon
Michael D. Martin, Norges Teknisk-Naturvitenskapelige Universitet
Simon Y.W. Ho, The University of Sydney
Niklas Mather, The University of Sydney
Shyam Gopalakrishnan, Københavns Universitet
Jazmín Ramos-Madrigal, Københavns Universitet
Marc de Manuel, CSIC-UPF - Instituto de Biologia Evolutiva (IBE)
M. Lisandra Zepeda-Mendoza, Københavns Universitet
Agostinho Antunes, University of Porto, Interdisciplinary Centre of Marine and Environmental Research
Aldo Carmona Baez, Københavns Universitet
Binia De Cahsan, Københavns Universitet
Greger Larson, Oxford Social Sciences Division
Stephen J. O'Brien, Saint Petersburg National Research University of Information Technologies, Mechanics and Optics University ITMOFollow
Eduardo Eizirik, Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul
Warren E. Johnson, Conservation and Research Center (National Zoo)
Klaus Peter Koepfli, Conservation and Research Center (National Zoo)
Andreas Wilting, Leibniz-Institut für Zoo- und Wildtierforschung
Jörns Fickel, Leibniz-Institut für Zoo- und Wildtierforschung
Love Dalén, Centre for Palaeogenetics
Eline D. Lorenzen, Københavns Universitet
Tomas Marques-Bonet, CSIC-UPF - Instituto de Biologia Evolutiva (IBE)
Anders J. Hansen, Københavns Universitet
Guojie Zhang, BGI-Shenzhen
Jong Bhak, Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology

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Publication Title

Current Biology


adaptation, ancient DNA, comparative genomes, diversity, genomics, Homotherium, palaeogenome, paleogenome, phylogeny, selection







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Homotherium was a genus of large-bodied scimitar-toothed cats, morphologically distinct from any extant felid species, that went extinct at the end of the Pleistocene [1–4]. They possessed large, saber-form serrated canine teeth, powerful forelimbs, a sloping back, and an enlarged optic bulb, all of which were key characteristics for predation on Pleistocene megafauna [5]. Previous mitochondrial DNA phylogenies suggested that it was a highly divergent sister lineage to all extant cat species [6–8]. However, mitochondrial phylogenies can be misled by hybridization [9], incomplete lineage sorting (ILS), or sex-biased dispersal patterns [10], which might be especially relevant for Homotherium since widespread mito-nuclear discrepancies have been uncovered in modern cats [10]. To examine the evolutionary history of Homotherium, we generated a ∼7x nuclear genome and a ∼38x exome from H. latidens using shotgun and target-capture sequencing approaches. Phylogenetic analyses reveal Homotherium as highly divergent (∼22.5 Ma) from living cat species, with no detectable signs of gene flow. Comparative genomic analyses found signatures of positive selection in several genes, including those involved in vision, cognitive function, and energy consumption, putatively consistent with diurnal activity, well-developed social behavior, and cursorial hunting [5]. Finally, we uncover relatively high levels of genetic diversity, suggesting that Homotherium may have been more abundant than the limited fossil record suggests [3, 4, 11–14]. Our findings complement and extend previous inferences from both the fossil record and initial molecular studies, enhancing our understanding of the evolution and ecology of this remarkable lineage.



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