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News: Editors
Genius Award to Genetic Researcher
Unlocking secrets of canine DNA

The young son of Stanford University researcher, Prof. Carlos Bustamante, answered the phone this morning at 7 a.m., and handing the phone to his father said, “Oh, it’s for you.” News of his $500,000 MacArthur Award (“genius award”) came as a welcomed surprise to Bustamante. His work focuses on understanding the evolution and interactions of population genetics in dogs, humans and even plants and pathogens.

  One of the most recent findings of Bustamante’s group at Stanford, in collaboration with Cornell and the National Human Genome Research Institute, was that—“in contrast to humans”—many physical traits in dogs are determined by very few genetic regions. For example, a dog with version A of the “snout length” region may have a long, slender muzzle, while version B confers a more standard nose and C an abnormally short schnoz. And let’s say X, Y and Z in the “leg length” region bestow a range of heights from short to tall. That would mean that in this example an A/X dog would have a slender muzzle and short legs like a Dachshund. C/Y might be a Bulldog, while B/Z would be more like a Labrador.   “This mixing and matching of chunks of DNA is how breeders were able to come up with so many different breeds in a relatively short amount of time,” writes Stanford’s Krista Conger.   Fascinating findings and because complex traits in humans are more difficult to discern, their work with dogs has implications for human health as well.

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Microchipping Success Story
Lost dog found after 7 years

Jake was a 6-month old puppy in 2003 when he disappeared from his yard the day after Thanksgiving. That was in Michigan. He was apparently dropped off at a kennel in Kentucky this week where a staff member found him in an after-hours kennel wearing a shock collar and nothing else to give any information about him. The scanner picked up the microchip, which prompted a call to Brad Davis, who still lives in Michigan. He thought it was a wrong number until they said they located him because of his dog’s microchip. Davis is headed to Kentucky to pick up Jake.

  Microchipping has led to many successful reunions between people and their dogs, though most of them are not seven years later. Of course, Jake can hardly be the same dog that he was as a puppy back in 2003. Still, it’s wonderful for Davis and his family to know that Jake is alive and well, even if they’ll never know what happened the day he disappeared or in all the days since.   Have you or anyone you know been reunited with a dog because that dog was microchipped?

 

News: Editors
Therapeutic Trees
Another health bonus from walking your dog

The New York Times had an interesting article about studies examining the health benefits of nature. Researchers have found that spending time in places with trees aplenty, such as parks and forests, is good for us and has a positive affect on our immune functions. Seems as if stress reduction is one factor that the scientists attribute to phytnocides, the “airborne chemicals that plants emit to protect them from rotting insects.”  The Japanese have taken this to heart and even partake in a practice called “forest bathing.” 

 

As The Times notes, “the scientists found that being among plants produced lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, and lower blood pressure, among other things.” So for all of you who walk your dogs in the woods, not only are you doing the right thing by providing sensory stimulation and exercise for them but you too get a healthy boost from the trees!

 

News: Guest Posts
Law & Order: Canine Unit?
New DNA database to aid dog-fighting investigations

On the heels of Charles Siebert’s eye-opening examination of the links between animal cruelty and other types of violence (“The Animal-Cruelty Syndrome,” New York Times, 6/7/10), the University of California, Davis, and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals have announced the creation of the nation’s first criminal dog-fighting DNA database. Known as the Canine CODIS (Combined DNA Index System), the database is designed to support criminal investigations and prosecutions in dog-fighting cases. As Siebert pointed out, the conviction of Michael Vick on dog-fighting charges in 2007 and the growing awareness of links between dog fighting and domestic violence and other crimes has made dog fighting a higher law enforcement priority. I’m thrilled to see advanced technology and new energy brought to this terrible practice.

 

How will it work? The Canine CODIS contains DNA profiles from dogs seized during dog-fighting investigations and from unidentified samples collected at suspected dog-fighting venues. DNA analysis and matching will help law enforcement identify relationships between dogs and establish connections between breeders, trainers and dog-fight operators. Blood collected from dog fighting sites also will be searched against the Canine CODIS database to identify the source. Am I the only one seeing a new Law & Order franchise here?   The Humane Society of Missouri is also a partner in creating the database, supplying 400 original and initial samples of DNA collected from dogs seized in July 2009 during the nation’s largest dog-fighting raid, as well as the Louisiana SPCA. The database will be maintained at the University of California, Davis, Veterinary Genetics Laboratory.

 

News: Guest Posts
Must Read
Connecting animal cruelty to other forms of violence

Bark contributor Charles Siebert explores how we are taking animal abuse more seriously than ever before—with tougher legislation, law enforcement, veterinary forensics and explorations into the neuroscience of empathy. “The Animal-Cruelty Syndrome” (New York Times Magazine, 6/13/10) is a tough read in parts, with graphic examples (be prepared), but hopefully signals a turning point in this previously underreported and inadequately addressed violence.

 

View the accompanying slideshow of abused and/or neglected Pit Bulls in New York shelters.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Double Checking
New law requires Ga. shelters to scan pets twice for microchips

Last year I wrote about a study of animal shelters that found 12 percent of microchips go undetected on the first scan. Thanks to a new law, lost Georgia pets can rest assured that there’s a greater chance of being identified and reunited with their families. House Bill 1106, sponsored by Representative Gene Maddox and Senator Greg Goggans, will go into effect on July 1st requiring shelters statewide to scan pets twice for microchips--once at intake and another time before euthanasia.

In the bill’s infancy, there was concern that the cost of requiring microchip scanning would prevent the legislation from being passed. To ensure the bill’s success, the American Kennel Club Companion Animal Recovery (AKC CAR) pledged 25 microchip scanners to Georgia shelters. HomeAgain and Bayer followed suit by pledging an additional 20 scanners each.

Microchips are inexpensive and easy to implant. According to the AKC CAR, microchipped pets are up to 20 times more likely to return home. Hopefully, Georgia’s legislation will encourage more people to microchip their pets and will help reunite more lost pets with their families.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Which Pooch Pooped?
DNA has the answer

A fancy condominium in the Baltimore area is plagued by a problem facing many neighborhoods around the country and indeed the world. At least one dog guardian is not scooping the poop, and the result is a mess that has residents upset. Steve Frans is a board member who has a dog, and is embarrassed by the mess that residents and guests must deal with. He has proposed a solution to the problem.

  Frans’ idea is to require everyone who lives there with a dog to submit a sample of the dog’s saliva and pay $50 for the DNA testing of that saliva. There would also be a $10 per month fee for having the staff scoop the poop that is not cleaned up so that it can be tested for a match. Both saliva and feces contain DNA. Whoever is responsible for not cleaning up the mess (the person, not the dog!) will be fined $500.   Using DNA to identify offenders of this kind is not new. In Petah Tikva, Israel, as Julia Kamysz Lane wrote about in 2008, dog guardians were rewarded with pet supplies for submitting their dog’s poop for DNA identification and offenders whose dog’s poop was found unscooped (based on DNA matching) were to be fined.   Do you think using DNA to identify the offenders is a reasonable option? In what other ways could they solve the problem?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Only the Good Die Young
Science doesn't back that up

According to a recent study, The Pace of Life Under Artificial Selection: Personality, Energy Expenditure, and Longevity Are Correlated in Domestic Dogs, there is a link between personality, metabolic rate, and life history traits. Researcher Vincent Careau and his colleagues conclude that dogs of obedient, docile and shy breeds live longer than breeds that are more typically bold or disobedient. They also found that aggressive breeds have higher energetic needs than breeds who are not typically aggressive. It is well known that large dogs don’t tend to live as long as small dogs. This study corrected for size and found that personality is related to canine life span without allowing size to confound their conclusions.

  Some specifics of the study’s findings are that both the German Shepherd and the Bichon live a long time for their size, and that Labradors and Newfoundlands burn less energy for their weight than other breeds. On the other end, Fox Terriers, Great Danes, Beagles and Pomeranians had short life spans relative to their size. The basic idea is that dogs who expend a lot of energy and don’t live that long are consistent with a pace-of-life syndrome that goes with a “live fast, die young” model. It has been used to explain varying life spans of a number of species.   The scientists who conducted this study assert that these results could be a result of either humans selecting for particular combinations of traits, but they believe another possibility is more likely: They think that these correlations probably arose from inadvertent correlations of these traits with the trait humans were truly selecting for—personality.   Many people will no doubt find this study fascinating, but there are already critics who view dogs as an unusual case in that the smaller breeds tend to live longer whereas in other animals, the longest-lived animals tend to be bigger. I myself am curious about how the breeds were categorized as bold, obedient, docile, aggressive etc. What do you think about this study?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Creating a Monster
Labradoodle creator regrets breeding the first “designer dog”

Ever since the Labradoodle led the “designer dog” craze, pet stores have spawned countless spinoffs that include Puggles, Schnoodles and Maltipoos. These mutts fetch hundreds of dollars, while an abundance of mixed breeds continue to wait in crowded shelters.

The Labradoodle dates back to 1988 when Wally Conran of the Royal Institute of the Blind in Australia received a letter from a woman who needed a seeing eye dog, despite her husband’s allergies. In response, Conran bred a Labrador from the Institute’s breeding stock to his manager’s Poodle to combine proven guide dog qualities with a non-shedding coat.

With the subsequent commercialization of the Labradoodle, Conran recently said that breeding the first “designer dog” is the greatest regret of his life and that he wishes he could turn the clock back.

I know Conran feels guilty, but if it weren’t Labradoodles, it would be something else. I believe that everything always comes back to responsible pet care. Until people start doing their research, puppy mills will continue to exist, catering to impulse buys and uneducated consumers. One day its “designer dogs” and tomorrow it will be “accessory puppies” or Dalmatians.

And, of course, the best kept secret remains that “designer dogs” can be adopted from the local animal shelter for a fraction of the price!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Collaborate for a Cure
New study aims to use doggy DNA to understand cancer.

The Translational Genomics Research Institute and the Van Andel Research Institute, in partnership with the National Cancer Institute, the University of Pennsylvania, and Michigan State University, have created the Canine Hereditary Cancer Consortium to better understand cancer in dogs and humans. 

The research features an unprecedented collaboration of veterinarians, scientists, research institutes, government entities, and corporations to accelerate the development of a cure.

By using the DNA in canine saliva, blood, and tumor samples, the scientists hope to better understand the genetic causes of cancer that will lead to treatment for both humans and canines. Having access to canine samples will allow researchers to study diseases, like sarcomas, where the scarcity of human samples makes it difficult to study.

The Canine Hereditary Cancer Consortium will be funded by a 2-year, $4.3 million federal stimulus grant and an additional $1 million provided by PetSmart and Hill’s Pet Nutrition. The research is also endorsed by the American Kennel Club and the Morris Animal Foundation

In addition to cancer, TGen and VARI eventually will study neurological and behavioral disorders as well as hearing loss and other debilitative conditions.

In a world where one of three dogs, one of two men, and two of three women will be affected by cancer, it’s important to pool our resources to finally beat this horrible disease.

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