August 28, 2009

Three genes determine a dog’s coat

The many textures found in the coats of dogs can be traced to variants in just three genes, researchers in Maryland have learned.

The study at the National Human Genome Research Institute, Bethesda, Md., targeted three genes responsible for every coat type from a poodle's curls to a terrier's wiry hair, Eric Green, the institute's scientific director, said in a release Friday.

This study is an elegant example of using genomic techniques to unravel the genetic basis of biological diversity, said Green, whose team analyzed DNA samples of 1,000 dogs representing 80 breeds.

Until the study, little was known about the genes responsible for the length, growth pattern and texture of dog coats. The findings could help target multiple genes involved in human conditions, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity, the researchers said.

Deciphering the genetic basis for a complex trait such as a dog's coat lays the groundwork for deciphering complex human diseases, the researchers said.