In the most comprehensive genetic analysis of dogs to date, researchers from Stanford, Cornell University and the National Human Genome Research Institute have found that only a few genetic regions determine much of a dog's appearance. In fact, according to geneticist Carlos Bustamante, PhD, only six or seven locations in the dog genome explain about 80 percent of the difference in height and weight among dog breeds. "In humans these are controlled by hundreds if not thousands of variants," he notes in a release.
The work is part of a collaboration called the CanMap project, which involves using the dog as a model system to identify genomic regions responsible for many key physical characteristics. It's interesting stuff, but does knowing what gives your dog a long snout have much implication for human health? Yes, says my colleague Krista Conger:
The discovery shows how studying genetic differences among dog breeds may ultimately help us understand human biomedical traits, such as height, hair color and body weight, that are usually influenced by the net impact of hundreds of different genes in our species. The key idea is that identifying the dozen regions where dogs harbor genetic switches among breeds will provide critical clues as to where researchers could find mutations important to human health and disease.
The study appears in the Public Library of Science-Biology.
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