There is a lot we don't know about our DNA and how it works. While there seems to be news every week about genetics, scientists are still in the early stages of finding out what effect our genes have on us (check out this post from another QUEST blogger, Dr. Barry Starr). That's what the researchers at the Canine Behavioral Genetics Project are doing. But in this case, they're looking at dog DNA.
It turns out that human intervention in the form of hundreds of years of dog breeding has created a unique genetic experiment. Because purebred dogs are in essence closed gene pools, it's much easier for scientists to compare of DNA of dogs within a breed. The Canine Behavioral Genetics Project is doing this to find the genes that are associated with behavioral disorders, like anxiety and fear. They also hope to use that information to find the genes in humans that are associated with similar disorders.
Millions of problematic dogs are given up each year in the U.S. And while the UCSF team definitely believes that training is a huge part of dealing with dog behavioral disorders, they're also hoping to understand the genetic influences. Many owners are starting to use medications to help treat these problems, like doggie Prozac. But Melanie Chang, a member of the UCSF team, made a good point to me. Owners tend to think their dog's problems are the owner's fault. Sometimes there are other forces at work.
Listen to "Doggie DNA: Human Genetics through Dogs" online, as well as find additional links and resources. Also, check out the photo set with behind-the-scenes photos.
Lauren Sommer is an Associate Media Producer for QUEST.