Selkirk Rex cats, first described in 1987, belong to one of four recognized curly-haired cat breeds. Now a new study by Serina Filler of the University of Veterinary Medicine explains why the Selkirk Rex is genetically distinct from previously known curly-coated breeds.
The first Selkirk Rex appeared in the state of Wyoming and was the result of an unplanned and unpredicted genetic mutation. Jeri Newman, a breeder of Persian cats, rescued an otherwise unremarkable cat from a local shelter. When the cat bore a litter of kittens, one stood out from the rest by virtue of its unusual, curly, poodle-like coat. Newman named the curious curly kitten Miss DePesto after a curly-haired character from the 1980's television series Moonlighting
In time, Newman bred Miss DePesto with a standard black male Persian and was surprised to see the first litter of six split evenly between curly-coated and straight-haired kittens. This indicated that curly-coats were the result of an autosomal dominant genetic mutation that only required one curly-hair gene from either parent.
Newman named the curly-haired cats “Selkirk Rex” as a tribute to both her step-father and to the Selkirk Mountains in Idaho and Canada. Although Selkirk Rex cats have achieved worldwide popularity over the past 25 years, a rigorous scientific study of their genetics has been lacking until now.
Serina Filler (right) and her colleagues at the University of California, Davis, the Agrobiogen in Germany, and Gottfried Brem at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, Austria, have collaborated to investigate how Selkirk Rex cats got their curly coats. The results were recently published in the Journal of Heredity under the title “Selkirk Rex: Morphological and Genetic Characterization of a New Cat Breed”.
The study confirmed that Jeri Newman's rescued shelter cat was the source of the original mutation approximately 8 or 9 generations ago. It also confirmed Newman's assumption that the mutation, named Selkirk Autosomal Dominant REx or “SADRE” by Filler, was dominant making curly-coatedness easy to maintain.
With this in mind, Filler is recommending that the relevant organizations regulating official breeds of cats “consider limiting the number of other breeds to which the cats may be crossed.” Doing so would enable breeders to guide the Selkirk Rex into an even more distinct breed appearance-wise. (Science Daily, Southern British Shorthair Cat Club, VetMedUni Vienna, and Trevor H)