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Techno Dogs
Elektro and Sparko by Westinghouse

Swabbing the Dog
Dog? Check. Buccal swab? Check. Apply the latter to the former, inside of cheek. Rub for 10 seconds. Voilà. DNA collected. Until fairly recently, we could only wonder if potential problems lurked in our co-pilots’ DNA. Now, however, it’s possible to know—maybe not everything and maybe not 100 percent, but at least the probabilities. Thanks to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals and the University of Missouri College of Vet Medicine, I know that my dog has two normal copies of the gene that, if mutated, puts a dog at risk for degenerative myelopathy (in humans, it’s known as Lou Gehrig’s disease). Now I can start worrying about something else.

Stem Cell Research In the field of regenerative medicine, which searches for innovative therapies that allow the body to repair and restore damaged or diseased tissues, stem cells offer one of the best hopes for success. Part of the body’s repair team, stem cells are unspecialized cells that can renew themselves and can sometimes become specific cells with special functions. In November of last year, the results of a trial conducted at the University of Cambridge showed spinal cord regeneration in dogs with severe spinal cord injuries (many of whom were Dachshunds). Thirty-four pet dogs took part in the trial; those who received a transplant of olfactory ensheathing cells— which came from their own noses—had significant improvements. Read more about Swabbing the Dog.

Canine Genome
Today, inside the elegant double helix of the canine genome, science is searching for answers to health problems plaguing both people and dogs. Their search is guided by the map completed in 2004 by teams involved in the Dog Genome Project. This map has become a valuable tool in identifying genetic markers for diseases common to both species; to date, more than 360 disorders found in humans have also been described in dogs. The next step has been to look for treatments. Last year, a California-based company began testing a genetically engineered virus that, it is hoped, will annihilate tumor cells. Also in 2012, a University of Pennsylvania research team studying another shared disorder, X-linked retinitis pigmentosa, which is caused by defects in the RPGR gene, found that a therapeutic RPGR gene can be delivered specifically to diseased rods and cones via a genetically modified virus.
 

Oddities

Low Tech: Historically, leather tanning was considered a smelly business, and no wonder. As one step in the process, dung—commonly, from dogs—was pounded into the hides, or they were soaked in large vats filled with a dung/water mixture. Those who collected the dung were called “pure finders.”

Robo-Dog: To give mechanical man Elektro a companion at the 1939 World’s Fair, Westinghouse built Sparko, a robot dog that engineer Don Lee Hadley modeled on his own Scotty. After the fair, Electro and Sparko hit the road, making appearances in department stores and at theme parks.

Sticky Inspiration: A walk in the woods with his dog led Swiss electrical engineer George de Mestral to invent Velcro® (a combination of the words “velor” and “crochet”) in 1948. As he was removing burs from his dog’s coat, he noticed how they bound themselves to the fur. It wasn’t long before Velcro® rivaled zippers.

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