Rats in different parts of New York have different genetic makeups

A new study outlines the genetic differences between rats in uptown and downtown New York.
By Joseph Scalise | Dec 05, 2017
Rats in uptown New York are distinctly different than the ones in downtown, according to new research published in the journal Molecular Ecology.

In the study, researchers from Fordham University and Providence College spent several years trapping hundreds of rats across New York and analyzing their genetic makeup as part an ecological study. The cramped city is a perfect place to analyze the rodents, and gave a new look into different populations.

The team found that rats in Manhattan have a different genetic makeup depending on where they live. Not only that, but, like human, they tend to stay in one area. That may sound odd, but the study showed that the mammals almost always remain close to the place where they were born.

In fact, data showed that rats belonging to the same colony typically stay within 200 to 400 meters of each other. Only 5 percent of rats looked at in the research left to seek other colonies, and those rodents only traveled up to 2,000 meters.

Even so, the team paid extra attention to those traveling rats because theyrepresent the most danger from an ecological standpoint. That is because they are able to transfer genetic information and move pathogens from colony to colony. Such spreading could potentially facilitate the exchange of certain diseases around the city.

"Those are the rats those dispersing rats that can actually move genetic information and move even their pathogens, and lead to that spread of disease and that gene flow we detected," said Combs says, according to NPR.

This study is important because there is very little research on rats, despite the fact that so many live in close proximity with humans. A better understanding of the rodents could help researchers create management strategies that could one day help control colonies and limit any potential diseases they might spread.

"Despite the fact that rats live right in our cities and under our feet, under our noses, there's actually quite little knowledge about how they behave in the cities, how they move around," added Combs, according to Tech Times.

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