Implications of the Dog Genome

Scientists at the Broad Institute have sequenced 99% of the dog genome. You might be asking, “So what?”

Here’s what:

  • Humans, dogs, and mice share about 5 percent of the genome. This is proof that we were once evolutionary relatives and shared a common ancestor.
  • A list of 2.5 million common genetic differences between dogs has been compiled, which will make it easier to understand the effects of intensive inbreeding and selection for specific traits.
  • Some diseases — including cancer, epilepsy, and heart disease — are similar in dogs and humans, but it will be easier to identify the genes involved using dogs. Since dogs of the same breed share more genes than two humans, there is less genetic “noise” from benign gene variants when comparing a dog affected by disease vs. one without.
  • Brain-related genes in dogs appear to have evolved as quickly as those in humans. So previous theories that human intelligence could be explained by more rapid evolution may not be correct.

Animal models are an indispensible part of understanding genomic function. We may no longer look or act like dogs (most of us, anyway), but there is still much that we share with them underneath the surface.

Boston Globe, December 8, 2005

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