How Dogs Became Man’s Best Friend
There is more to that wagging tail, lifted paw and slobbery kiss than meets the eye. The sociability of dogs is more than just happenstance. A new study shows that it has a genetic link.
Researchers from Linköping University in Sweden discovered that domestication over the past 15,000 years altered the canine genome. In a recent study, they linked five genes to the sociability of dogs. Unlike cats and other domesticated animals, dogs have developed a unique level of communication and cooperation with humans.
The study took 190 laboratory born, bred and raised Beagles who had experienced similar interaction of humans for the study. They gave each dog the unsolvable task of opening a tight lid containing a treat.
Using video to record the results, it was found that the dogs sought out the help of a human in the room once they discovered their inability to open the lid. At the same time, the dog’s DNA was studied using genome-wide associate studies (GWAS), a method that allows scientists to examine a number of variants throughout the genome, using a genotyped with an HD Canine SNP Chip.
The results of the study showed a distinct association between close human interaction and DNA regions containing five different genes.
The SEZGL gene “significantly associated with the time dogs spent in close proximity of the human as well as in direct contact.” Two other markers in the gene, ARVCF gene “were suggestively associated with the duration of seeking human physical contact.” Results also showed that female dogs had higher sociability behavior scores.
Mia Persson, lead author of the study, says,
Four of the genes are previously known from studies of social disorders in humans, for example, autism and ADHD.
Per Jensen, professor of ethology At Linköping University, who led the study, says,
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.
If the association we have found can be confirmed in other dog breeds, it is possible that dog behavior also can help us to better understand social disorders in humans.