Scientists Discover That Just a Few Genes Dictate Major Differences in a Dog’s Looks


Some are short, and some are tall. Some are wrinkled, while others have sleek coats. There's no disputing that there is a wide variety of dog breeds out there, but new research reveals that relatively few genes actually determine a canine’s appearance. “The difference between the Dachshund's diminutive body and the Rottweiler's massive one hangs on the sequence of a single gene,” writes Evan Ratliff in the current issue of National Geographic magazine.

Researchers from Cornell University, UCLA and the National Institutes of Health examined DNA from more than 900 dogs — including their wild cousins, gray wolves and coyotes — in a project called CanMap.

Their findings: Only about 50 different genes control dozens of characteristics in canines, such as height, body size, fur type, nose shape and coloring. By comparison. While 50 may seem to be a lot, humans are vastly more genetically complicated. It takes hundreds of genes just to determine a person’s height.

According to the article, the reason for the relative simplicity behind the genetic makeup of man’s best friend is likely wrapped up in how the dog’s evolutionary history has been altered by humans.

Plus: Read a related story about why the Bulldog breed is in serious trouble.


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