Study Shows Uptown and Downtown Rats in New York Are Genetically Different

PetMD Editorial
Published: October 02, 2018
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The rats in New York are notorious for their large size and fearless attitude. From carrying pizza up a staircase to climbing onto unsuspecting subway passengers, New York rats are as much a part of life in Manhattan as traffic is.

For one graduate student and his colleagues, the rats in New York are proving to be a very interesting subject matter for study. Matthew Combs and his colleagues from Fordham University are conducting a study that involves trapping and sequencing the DNA of New York rats in order to create a comprehensive genetic portrait.

The study provided some very interesting insights into the genetic origins and variances amongst rats in New York. It turns out that New York rats are still very genetically similar to their Western European ancestors, especially Great Britain and France.

These rats arrived on ships when New York was still a British colony. The Atlantic explains, “Combs was surprised to find Manhattan’s rats so homogenous in origin. New York has been the center of so much trade and immigration, yet the descendants of these Western European rats have held on.”

As they dove deeper into the DNA sequencing of New York rats, they found that within the Manhattan population of rats, there were distinct subpopulations. The two genetically distinguishable populations consist of uptown and downtown rats.

There seems to be a genetic barrier in the midtown area. The Atlantic explains, “It’s not that midtown is rat-free—such a notion is inconceivable—but the commercial district lacks the household trash (aka food) and backyards (aka shelter) that rats like. Since rats tend to move only a few blocks in their lifetimes, the uptown rats and downtown rats don’t mix much.”

They not only found a genetic difference between uptown and downtown rats in New York, but also a difference between rat neighborhoods. Combs explains to The Atlantic, “If you gave us a rat, we could tell whether it came from the West Village or the East Village.”