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FEATURE ARTICLE

Genetics and the Shape of Dogs

Studying the new sequence of the canine genome shows how tiny genetic changes can create enormous variation within a single species

Elaine A. Ostrander

Figure%201.%20Chihuahua-toy%20poodle%20mix%20and%20Scottish%20deerhoundClick to Enlarge ImageHow can dogs that vary in size from a few pounds to almost 200 pounds all be the same species? The large size variation in dogs has long been a question for breeders and everyday dog-lovers alike. Elaine Ostrander, head of the Dog Genome Project at the National Institutes of Health, and her group have recently completed the sequencing of a dog genome and can point to some groups of genes for size and other traits. In her article she will discuss what genetically defines a breed, what genes seem to control size differences between males and females and the genetics behind more muscular members of certain breeds. The new map of the dog genome may also help determine the causes of some breed-specific dog diseases, an understanding that could  benefit human medicine. Genetics might never be able to decipher why dogs and humans share their bonds of adoration and loyalty, but they may help to improve health and longevity for both man and man's best friend.


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