The Science of Sustainability

Producer's Notes – Doggie DNA

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There is a lot we don't know about our DNA and how it works. While there seems to be news every week about genetics, scientists are still in the early stages of finding out what effect our genes have on us (check out this post from another QUEST blogger, Dr. Barry Starr). That's what the researchers at the Canine Behavioral Genetics Project are doing. But in this case, they're looking at dog DNA.

It turns out that human intervention in the form of hundreds of years of dog breeding has created a unique genetic experiment. Because purebred dogs are in essence closed gene pools, it's much easier for scientists to compare of DNA of dogs within a breed. The Canine Behavioral Genetics Project is doing this to find the genes that are associated with behavioral disorders, like anxiety and fear. They also hope to use that information to find the genes in humans that are associated with similar disorders.

Millions of problematic dogs are given up each year in the U.S. And while the UCSF team definitely believes that training is a huge part of dealing with dog behavioral disorders, they're also hoping to understand the genetic influences. Many owners are starting to use medications to help treat these problems, like doggie Prozac. But Melanie Chang, a member of the UCSF team, made a good point to me. Owners tend to think their dog's problems are the owner's fault. Sometimes there are other forces at work.

Listen to "Doggie DNA: Human Genetics through Dogs" online, as well as find additional links and resources. Also, check out the photo set with behind-the-scenes photos.

Lauren Sommer is an Associate Media Producer for QUEST.

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Category: Biology, Health, Radio

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About the Author ()

Lauren is a radio reporter covering environment, water, and energy for KQED Science. As part of her day job, she has scaled Sierra Nevada peaks, run from charging elephant seals, and desperately tried to get her sea legs - all in pursuit of good radio. Her work has appeared on Marketplace, Living on Earth, and NPR's Morning Edition and All Things Considered. You can find her on Twitter at @lesommer.
  • Søren Kjær Vestergaard

    I have heard about the theory of the DNA being demolished for every generation that we eat a pure diery. This is a theory for man but pehaps it´s workning the same way for pets.

  • Arin Weitzman

    I am so particularly disturbed by the number of dogs that are neutered. This bothers me because it hurts their lives and their emotional well-being, and I do not believe that it reduces their risks to cancer. It also bothers me because it means that dogs will come from only one source, breeders, in the economic sense of the word, and not my neighbors, in the social sense of the word. I am certain that this must have an influence on their DNA.

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