Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Genes underlying dogs' social ability revealed

According to a study done by Linköping University, the social ability of dogs is affected by genes that also seems to influence the way they behave with humans. The scientists involved in the research have found a relationship between five different genes and the ability of dogs to interact with humans.

Of all the domesticated animals, dogs are the oldest. Over thousands of years, they have adapted to a life among humans; through developed unique abilities to communicate and cooperate with humans. In this respect, they are widely superior to their wild ancestors, the wolves. If a dog was facing a difficult task, it'd most likely seek a human, apparently to solicit help. In similar situations, wolves generally attempt to solve the problem themselves.

"Our findings are the first to reveal genes that can have caused the extreme change in social behavior, which has occurred in dogs since they were domesticated," says Per Jensen, professor of ethology, who is the leader of the research group.

In the new study, the researchers wanted to study the behavior of the dogs by presenting them with an tough situation; opening a tight lid to obtain a treat. The participants included almost 500 beagles all with similar early exposure to humans. The scientists used video recordings to quantify the willingness of the dogs to seek physical contact with a person in the room when the problem turned out to be too difficult.The DNA of the dogs were also examined. By using a method called genome-wide association study or GWAS, the researchers examined a large number of genetic variants throughout the genome. GWAS can be used to find out if a particular genetic variant is more common among individuals with a particular trait, such as contact seeking behavior in this case. It turned out that the contact seeking dogs more often carried certain genetic variants.

I'm surprised to learn that behavior can be a result of a gene. This brings in the idea of nature vs. nurture which I find to be an interesting topic.

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