If you’ve encountered one of the nearly 100 million cats in the U.S., you knowthat cats regularly show us their butt. Why? It’s thought to be a sign ofaffection. Cats, much like dogs, do sniff each other’s butts for an update onanother individual’s identity, health and more.

New research shows that cats may harbor a community of bacterial in their analsacs to generate volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can travel through theair and serve as a signal. Other cats can smell these compounds. Your catassumes you can do the same.

Scientists from the University of California, Davis wanted to test thefermentation hypothesis, which describes symbiotic microorganisms livingsymbiotically with animals that create odor profiles which are used forcommunication by the animal. Changes in the chemical signals, or VOCs, aredriven by changes in the composition of the microbiome.

A chemical signal needed in mouse reproduction requires a bacterial partner toproduce. Since anal glands are common across many mammal species, cats couldalso depend on certain bacteria to generate chemicals used in signaling.

To test the fermentation hypothesis, the scientists characterized themicrobiome and the VOC profile of one lucky male bengal cat’s anal sacs. Theyused next-generation sequencing to identify most of the bacterial speciespresent and mass spectrometry to identify various VOCs produced.

The researchers also grew some of the bacterial species of interest and testedthe chemicals produced. They found that across 67 VOCs identified from thebacteria, 51 were also found in anal sac secretions, meaning that the bacteriaof interest were likely the main producers of scent used as communication.

Some of the compounds identified in both the anal sac and cultured bacteria,such as aromatic alcohols, can only be generated in microorganisms and plants.Together these findings support the fermentation hypothesis, though to whatdegree the anal sac exists to house bacteria for signaling is still unknown.


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