Is it possible, or desirable, to produce a genetically engineered cat that doesn’t have an urge to kill wildlife?
Tilly the cat, transcribed by Pat Sheil Camperdown, New South Wales, Australia
I am more than happy to be part of any experiment that involves the genetic modification of domestic cats to reduce their desire to attack endangered wildlife, but on one condition: that I, Tilly, highly evolved carnivore that I am, be part of the unmodified control group, given free and equal access, 24/7, to the same wildlife as my CRISPRed fellow research subjects.
Any results obtained without such controls would clearly be meaningless. Agreed? Well, count me in.
Anne Barnfield London, Ontario, Canada
A simpler solution to this problem may be environmental rather than genetic. Recent research shows giving household cats engaging play opportunities and a diet high in meat protein significantly decreased predation by the cats studied (20 February, p 21).
Saif Ahmad Basingstoke, Hampshire, UK
Humans first domesticated animals thousands of years ago. Back then, the main reason why was to aid human survival. Cats were probably domesticated to help get rid of pests. It is only in very recent times that cats have been kept as pets rather than for their killing abilities.
It may be possible to genetically engineer them to make them less inclined to kill wildlife. However, this might come at the risk of losing desirable features like playfulness and independence.
Maurice Pitesky University of California, Davis, US
Without predatory cats, I suspect that poultry farms throughout the world would have a much bigger rodent problem. Historically, barn cats have played a role in hunting rodents that eat chicken feed.
One upside if cats didn’t hunt wildlife would be a reduction in the disease toxoplasmosis, caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. The only place that this pathogen can reproduce is the gut of a cat, and the only way it can spread to cats is via the ingestion of an infected animal, typically a rodent.
Without the predatory behaviour of cats, T. gondii couldn’t reproduce and the infection rate of toxoplasmosis in humans (which can be up to 50 per cent in some populations) would decrease.
Brian Stewart Elgin, Moray, UK
I have long believed that we should intervene to suppress the hunting instincts of predators. Nature is unthinking, and indifferent to the suffering of sentient creatures.
Clearly this would have wide-reaching consequences for the tangle of life on the planet, but I am confident our superbeing descendants will be capable of reprogramming the world.
This isn’t a new idea. For thousands of years, many religions have questioned how a benign God could create and oversee so much violence and suffering. The Bible refers to a future time when ravenous beasts become peaceable, in which “the lion will eat straw like the ox” and “the wolf and the lamb will feed together”.