Genetic variants may explain why dogs are friendly to humans

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In recent years, advances in genetic research have led to the discovery of genes involved in dog traits that include; coat colour, size and personality.  Now scientists have found structural variants in genes on chromosome 6 which is associated with human-directed social behaviours, which may explain why dogs are typically friendly to humans.

The study, published in Science Advances, examined the genetic makeup and behavioural traits of 18 domesticated dogs and 10 human-socialised wolves. 

The researchers identified a chromosomal overlap in dogs that is similar to a disorder in humans called Williams-Beuren syndrome (WBS).  This is a multi-system congenital disorder characterised by hyper-sociability in humans yet impairs critical thinking and results from a loss of part of chromosome 7.  

The team focused on this area of DNA in the dogs and wolves, finding more disruptions occurred in the chromosome 6 area (in genes GTF2I and GTF2IRD1) in dogs compared to wolves.  This suggests dogs’ tameness could be associated with a genetic condition rather than dogs evolving an advanced form of social cognition through the domestication process.  While each dog’s individual experience will have bearing on their sociability, these results propose the variants in GTF2I and GTF2IRD1 may have contributed to the rapid domestication of dogs.

Although the sample size in this study was small hence further investigation is required, it does provide support for the ‘survival of the friendliest’ hypothesis of dog domestication; helping explain why dogs go out of their way to seek attention and affection from others – particularly us humans.

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