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59 Genes May Make Your Dog a Better Athlete

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At this year’s Biology of Genomes meeting, postdoc student Jaemin Kim, in collaboration with canine genomicist Elaine Ostrander at the National Institute for Human Genome Research in Bethesda, Maryland, gave a talk on the 59 genes he has identified that are associated with dogs It seems like athletics, which apparently affects everything from heart rate to muscle strength. What interested him in this particular genome study course was why his basketball skills didn’t quite match the NBA stars. So he decided to start by studying the genes that make sport dogs Michael Jordan’s canine world.

This study looked at 10 sporting dog breeds such as pointers, setters and retrievers and compared the DNA of their breeds to 9 terrier breeds. He found that 59 genes associated with traits such as blood flow, heart rate, muscle strength, and even pain perception stood out and had more in common within this breed type than with terrier breeds.


As Kim describes the results in the summary of the paper:

“A comparison of data across the entire genomic sequences between sport hunting breeds and terrier breeds, groups at the end of the continuum in form and function, shows that genes underlying cardiovascular and muscle functions in sport hunting breeds, including ADRB1, TRPM3, RYR3, UTRN and ASIC3, rather than genes associated with physical properties. … Finally, we observed strong selection for a high impact mutation in CDH23, a gene associated with hearing loss and human Usher syndrome, possibly used as a mechanism to control the startle reflex in so-called “gun” dogs. These results provide strong evidence that sport hunting breeds have adapted to their occupations by improving endurance, cardiac function, and blood fluidity, and the startle reflex. This shows how strong behavior choices alter physiology versus form to create breeds with different abilities. “



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