June 24, 2008

Genetic Cause of Dog Variations Sought

British and U.S. scientists say they've developed a method to identify the genetic basis for physical and behavioral differences among canine breeds.

Geneticist Paul Jones of Britain's Waltham Center for Pet Nutrition says dogs vary in size, shape, color, coat length and behavior more than any other animal and that variance has largely been unexplained.

But in the new study, he said scientists developed a method of identifying the genetic basis for the diversity that might have far-reaching benefits for dogs and their owners.

The study identified locations in a dog's DNA that contain genes that are believed to contribute to differences in body and skull shape, weight, fur color and length -- and possibly even behavior, trainability and longevity.

By applying this research approach, we may be able to decipher how genes contribute to physical or behavioral traits that affect many breeds, said Jones, a study co-author. He noted the research might also have implications for human health, since dogs and people suffer many of the same diseases.

The study that included researchers from the U.S. National Human Genome Research Institute, the University of Utah and Sundowners Kennels in Gilroy, Calif., appears in the journal Genetics.