Lillian Bubbles, or “Lil Bub” as the world knows her, is without a doubt one of the most unique (and adorable) cats in existence. Her big green eyes, short legs, extra toes, and always visible tongue have been an internet and IRL sensation pretty much since she was born in 2011.
But now, scientists are so intrigued by what exactly makes Bub, Bub, that they have launched an scientific crowdfunding project on Experiment.com to raise funds that will actually allow them to fully sequence her genome. The experiment will cost $6,500 and has met its funding goal, but raising additional funds will benefit studies involving other genetic diseases in cats.
First off, Bub has a grand total of 22 toes. This is called polydactyly, and cats with this condition are nicknamed “Hemingway Cats”, coined after the first known polydactyl cats all owned by Ernest Hemingway. A study in 2007 verified that all polydactyl cats born in Britain shared a genetic mutation, and in the US, a different one. From this, the concluded that all polydactyl cats share a single common ancestor that spread their toes all across America. Bub’s DNA matches the American mutation, so she’s a part of that ancestry line!
What people notice first about Bub, is her distinct, short shape. She has rather short legs, and a very small lower jaw, which causes her tongue to stick out. This is caused by Osteoporosis. While much more common in humans, Osteoporosis is actually incredibly rare in cats. The scientists are fairly certain this was not passed down from her parents, has the disease is likely to occur spontaneously in both cats and humans. It’s also the cause of her lack of teeth. However, despite her slightly restricted movement (she’s gotten better at running and jumping every day!), her vet insists Bub is happy as can be.
Vets have found a treatment that helps Bub helps with her osteopetrosis. Knowing the genetic cause can one day help both other felines – and humans – who suffer from the disease.
Even rarer, is that these two conditions are not related whatsoever. Bub is such a unique case, that scientists can only conclude that it’s a complete freak coincidence that she has both. Since most money is put toward more prominent diseases, such as diabetes and cancer, crowdfunding is a great help in assisting further research on rare genetic mutations in animals.
The project has surpassed their goal, but all further donations will go to their next project – studying another rare condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
“All of these diseases, the mechanism is shared basically between different mammals,” said Orsolya Symmons, one of the biologists involved with Bub’s project. “Lil Bub is basically one piece of a puzzle, but she’s also connected to all these other cases.