Canine Genetics

Keith Robison robison1 at
Sun Mar 6 20:34:28 EST 1994

	As another poster noted, the great variety of dog (and cat)
breeds is not due to natural selection, but rather human selection.
For example, the original poster's Border Collie was selected for
it's herding ability.  Shar-pei's and pit bulls for fighting,
pointers for hunting, etc.  Fancy goldfish are another example of
a huge diversity of forms created relatively quickly (last few thousand
years) by selective breeding.

	An exciting project is underway to take advantage of all these
years of selective breeding.  The Dog Genome Project, led by Jasper Rine
at U.Berkeley and Lawrence Livermore Labs, seeks to genetically map many
of the traits found in dogs.  A truly fascinating aspect of this project
is to map well-defined behaviorial traits in dogs.  For example, the
initial crosses to be followed is Border Collie x Newfoundland.  A major
goal in this cross is to map the herding instinct in the Border Collie.
Even dogs which have never seen a sheep show all of the basic behaviours
(I have watched a professor's dog use these behaviours while catching 
a frisbee).  Other crosses (and studying existing pedigrees; all those
pet fanciers have created a geneticist's goldmine) will be used to
identify diseases which show up in certain dog breeds (suggesting
a genetic link) but for which no link has been found in humans.

	If you ever see a seminar announcement from the Dog Genome group
GO TO IT!  It will be much more fun than your average seminar -- 2/3 
std seminar, 1/3 videos of some of these dogs in action.

Keith Robison
Harvard University
Department of Cellular and Developmental Biology
Department of Genetics / HHMI

krobison at 

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