Published: Fri, July 21, 2017
Life&Culture | By Rose Hansen

What makes a dog man's best friend decoded

What makes a dog man's best friend decoded

The changes weren't identical in humans and dogs.

The findings challenge previous research that suggests dogs were domesticated twice by separate groups living in east and western Eurasia, instead revealing all modern dogs descended from animals that were domesticated by people living in Eurasia 20,000-40,000 years ago.

The genetic blueprint underlying this personality shift is still a mystery, however.

"This recent work is providing a possible molecular mechanism that influences social behavior, e.g. friendliness", Bridgett vonHoldt, an evolutionary biologist from Princeton University who conducted the research, tells Inverse.

"This exciting observation highlights the utility of the dog as a genetic system informative for studies of human disease, as it shows how minor variants in critical genes in dogs result in major syndromic effects in humans", she said. They continued to breed and pass on their genetics of friendliness to generations of dogs that became more and more dependent and close to humans.

The scientists started out by testing how 18 dogs and 10 wolves behave around people. These included a trial in which the canines were required to open a puzzle box that contained a treat, both alone and in the presence of a human stranger.

"We've done a lot of research that shows that wolves and dogs can perform equally well on social cognition tasks", Udell said. A relative lack of changes in that gene seems to lead to aloof, wolflike behavior, VonHoldt says. They had a person sitting down inside a marked circle in an active phase and a passive phase. Another test measured how many times a dog or a wolf sidled up next to a human sitting nearby.

Powerful quake hits off Turkish coast
Separately, Greece's fire service said it had rescued three injured persons from a damaged building. Turkey's coast and nearby Greek islands felt the effects of the quake.

The experiment revealed that the dogs were more likely to give up on the task and stare at the human, while the wolves persisted and solved it, regardless of the person's presence.

The researchers then turned to humans with Williams-Beuren syndrome, a developmental disorder that leads to mental disability and an "elfin" appearance, but also often makes a person very trusting and friendly. People with WBS tend to be especially social and friendly, which made the researchers suspect that these genes might be important for friendliness both in people and in dogs.

VonHoldt focused on this stretch of DNA because she previously had found that this region, which is on dog chromosome 6, seemed to have been important in canine evolution.

'Those wolves that were tamer and less aggressive would have been more successful at this, and while the humans did not initially gain any kind of benefit from this process, over time they would have developed some kind of symbiotic [mutually beneficial] relationship with these animals, eventually evolving into the dogs we see today'.

"We're not saying we have found the mutation that controls sociability", vonHoldt says.

VonHoldt stresses that this study doesn't seek to explain the process through which dogs were domesticated, a hotly debated and controversial topic. Plus, genes aren't deterministic; whether a dog was raised in a loving or abusive home, for example, could shape how friendly it is as an adult.

Like this: