You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Wed, Sep 1, 2010 : 9:40 a.m.

Studying canine genetics may shed light on human health

By Lorrie Shaw


Flickr photo courtesy of eddy van 3000

No doubt about it: Dogs are a big part of many humans' lives. Long ago, we begun to rely on them for their abilities to assist us in hunting, protection and even companionship.

Little did we know just how important our connection might be: studying canine genomes could hold the key to understanding human health and what variants affect it, genetically speaking.

Dogs have become the most physically divergent animal on land, thanks to our intervention by way of selective breeding practices. We've honed in on their specialized traits, whether they be physical or behavioral traits, or natural ability that we find desirable. Hence, the multitude of breeds.

A team of investigators co-led by researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine, Cornell University and the National Human Genome Research Institute set out to discover more about how understanding canine genetics could help gain insight into the human genome - and how to discover where genetic mutations might be found that lead to disease in humans. Nine-hundred and fifteen dogs were studied - including domestic breeds, canids, (wolves, foxes, coyotes) and Egyptian village dogs.

The study's results were published on Aug. 10 in the Public Library of Science-Biology. What was discovered, interestingly, was that the regions of the canine genome responsible for variances like height and muzzle size are very few, unlike the human genome. One human trait can be influenced by several genes. Because of the pared-down nature of canine genetics, it allows researchers to use that as a model to better understand the complexities of the human genome.

Hopefully, that will mitigate the usual "needle-in-the-haystack" hurdle that researchers face in studying the areas of cancer and neurological disease.

An article dated Aug. 12 clarifies this in more detail.

Researchers hope to apply the same findings to investigate and learn if behavioral traits in dogs are somehow connected to specific regions of the canine genome. In doing so, it might give insight into behavior in other mammals.

Lorrie Shaw is owner of Professional Pet Sitting and a pet blogger on More Than Four Walls. She is also a regular pets contributor on where she examines topics ranging from social issues, health and behavior. Your contact is welcomed via e-mail.