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Genetics Unlocks Mystery Of Why Dogs Are Friendly

20 July 2017, 7:08 am EDT By Katrina Pascual Tech Times
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This new robot dog from Boston Dynamics is creepily lifelike

If you wonder why dogs are extremely amiable and affectionate toward you, the answer may lie in genetics.

New research has suggested that common underlying genetics between dogs and humans may explain dogs’ hyper-social behavior toward people.

Human Condition Marked By Extreme Sociability

A group of researchers from Princeton University, Oregon State University, and other institutions discovered distinct genetic insertions in chromosome 6 of dogs tied to a tendency to seek out humans for physical contact and attention.

The insertions, known as transposons, were detected in a genomic region connected to Williams-Beuren syndrome, a developmental delay where intense sociability is one symptom.

In humans, deletion instead of insertion in the same gene set is linked to the syndrome.

“It was the remarkable similarity between the behavioral presentation of Williams-Beuren syndrome and the friendliness of domesticated dogs that suggested to us that there may be similarities in the genetic architecture of the two phenotypes,” said study author and Princeton assistant professor Bridgett vonHoldt in a statement.

VonHoldt previously described the canine analog to the part of the human genome called the Williams-Beuren syndrome critical region (WBSCR).

Dogs And Wolves

In their recent study, the researchers delved on genetic and behavioral data on 18 dogs and 10 captive, socialized wolves, where both animals took part in problem-solving activities with corresponding food rewards.

Dogs more favorably demonstrated human-directed social behavior, seeking out human contact and assistance during the research.

Transposons found on the dogs’ WBSCR genes explained the differences in their behavior. VonHoldt considered this an important genetic consideration rather than a so-called “social gene,” one shaping animal personality.

The results also suggested that in the process of canine domestication, dogs were probably selected for their sociability and tendency to seek human companionship rather than a set of cognitive abilities.

Biologist Adam Boyko from Cornell University told the New York Times that the work is “truly interesting and important,” possibly among the first to ever identify certain genetic variants crucial “for turning wolves into dogs.”

He added, however, that the study covered a small number of animals, and a bigger study on a more diverse group of creatures may be needed to confirm the results on the candidate genes for hypersociability.

The findings have been detailed in the journal Science Advances.

Earlier studies this year revealed other curious findings: dogs likely judge someone based on how she treats people, and that these lovable canines may actually be mirroring their owners’ traits.

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