Dr. Leslie Lyons has 20,000 genes to sequence, and she needs 99 cats to do it.

Lyons — who made headlines in 2001 when she analyzed the DNA of a cat named Cc and proved that the kitty was the first true cloned cat — is leading the 99 Lives Cat Whole Genome Sequencing Initiative at the University of Missouri.

Scientist are mapping the genomes of everything from people to wheat, but the cat genome remains mostly un-deciphered.

Lyons says a mapping of the 20,000 genes in various cat breeds could help identify the cause of cats' fur and eye color, as well as the source of certain feline health problems.

It could even aid research on diseases that affect both cats and humans like polycystic kidney disease and spinal muscular atrophy.

"When a sick cat comes along, you could genetically sequence it and say, 'Hey, look, this has a variation we've never seen before,'" she told the San Francisco Chronicle. "It might give us clues very quickly as to what genes to focus on for this cat's health care."

Lyons originally planned to sequence just nine cats, but she determined that nine lives weren't enough to for a full genetic workup.

Now the research team is looking for genetic samples from cats across the globe, as well as across different breeds.

The 99 Lives Cat Whole Genome Sequencing Initiative uses samples from felines that have been spayed and neutered. (DNA can be easily extracted from testicles, ovaries and uteruses removed from the animals.)

Mapping each genome will take weeks and cost about $8,000.

Sequencing all 99 kitties is estimated to generated 168 terabytes of data, which will be uploaded to a website for anyone to view, search and annotate.

Related on MNN:

Laura Moss writes about a variety of topics with a focus on animals, science, language and culture. But she mostly writes about cats.

What can you do with 99 cats?
The 99 Lives Cat Whole Genome Sequencing Initiative will map 20,000 genes in various cat breeds to build a complete genetic portrait of felines.