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Deconstructing the Gene Pool


JB: So trying to “conserve” diversity, for instance, by not strictly adhering to a DNA test result, doesn’t make much sense to you?

MN: There’s nothing more important to the survival and adaptability of a species than genetic diversity. What I’m saying is that it seems incongruous to hold adherence to DNA testing to a different standard when the gene pools of these breeds have been closed and breeders are striving for conformation to a standard. I’m not sure I’m aware of a single instance where dogs have been brought in to add new “blood” to a breed.

JB: You said that in many cases, even when breeds are crossed with a dissimilar breed, it doesn’t take too long to re-establish the breed’s classic look and behavior. Why is that so?

MN: Most breed-defining traits are shared by multiple related breeds. For example, I would predict that the genes for pointing behavior are common to perhaps a dozen or more pointing breeds. So one could resurrect a breed by bringing together the right combination of genes from related breeds. This won’t always work because there are some characteristics that truly are unique, such as polydactyly in the Lundehund.

What makes breed development rapid is that most selected traits are tied to genes of big effect. So instead of moving a hundred genes of small effect through selective breeding, one only needs to move two or three. I’m speculating on this last part. We don’t entirely know this, but it’s a reasonable guess.




This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 34: Jan/Feb 2006

Jane Brackman, PhD, is an authority on the cultural history of canine domestication and the author of two books on pets in 19th-century America. See her new pup, Barkley, and watch him grow on her blog.

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Submitted by Tom and Terri Reed | August 22 2013 |

The interview made perfect sense and speaks to the end product when evaluating selective breeding vs. natural selection. We generally can identify breed traits in our own mixedbreed rescue dogs, and appreciate their diversity and sturdiness. We adopted our newest addition last summer when she was brought into a rescue facility in Playa del Carmen Mexico to be euthanized. Collected in Tulum, Coba was a two-pound street puppy, malnourished and infested with lice and internal parasites. Our daughter, who was interning at the clinic, elected not to euthanize but rather, to treat and spay her. With health certificate and plane ticket in hand, we brought Coba home. While Coba may or may not qualify as a true village dog in the scientific sense, clearly, her behavioral traits are influenced by DNA developed over time by natural selection. She is bright, resourceful, intuitive, assertive without being aggressive (a culled behavior, according to Dr. Boyko) and slow to trust. Coba is a joy and has given us so much more than we have given her. She is now full grown and a healthy 26 pounds. People tell us, “That is one lucky dog.” The reality is, we are the lucky ones to have her and to experience what she contributes to our lives.

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