ROCKVILLE, MD, April 5, 2007 From the smallest Chihuahua to the largest Great Dane, dogs dramatically vary in size, much more than most other animals. Now scientists have discovered a genetic basis for this diversity.
A new study published in tomorrows edition of the research journal Science reveals a genetic marker that may determine whether dogs are big or small, and helps answer a burning question in genetics how could dogs as a species have such a tremendous variation in size?
This study is a major milestone in canine genetics, made possible by the help of thousands of dog owners around the world. Together with a team of leading international researchers, we have precisely located the major gene that produces our miniature breeds, said co-author Paul G. Jones, PhD, a genetics researcher at Mars a world leader in pet care that has been researching canine genetic science for the last seven years.
Dogs were one of the earliest animals to be domesticated more than 15,000 years ago, although people and wolves have coexisted for some 400,000 years. While all dogs originated from wolves, which are of a fairly standard size and appearance, modern dog breeds display a wide diversity of traits, including size. The genetic origin of this diversity has baffled scientists, who have been trying to explain how and why size differences occurred so rapidly in dogs. It is now thought that a change in the gene detailed in the new study resulted in the appearance of small dogs in the population many thousands of years ago.
Jones said it is likely that people soon saw the benefits of smaller dogs, for example for protecting food stores from vermin or catching small game. This further strengthened the bond between people and dogs and led to increasing popularity of smaller dogs as companions.
The international team of researchers ranging from scientists at the National Human Genome Research Institute, Cornell and other le
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