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Doggy DNA: Few Genes Separate Chihuahua from Great Dane

Geneticist Adam Boyko walks us through the DNA maze that produces dogs of all shapes and sizes from a very few genes.

From dainty toy poodles to steadfast bulldogs to massive Saint Bernards, dogs come in a dizzying array of shapes and sizes. But their dog genes are remarkably similar.

What is it about the biology of dogs that allows dog breeders to wring so much physical variation out of a single species? The link between the DNA and the physical appearance of a species is generally difficult to sort out, but a revolution in genetic technology has made a breakthrough possible with dogs.

In the podcast, Dr. Adam Boyko, a geneticist at Stanford University, talks about the connection between the appearance and the genetics of 80 dog breeds. Contrary to expectations, Boyko's research shows that just a handful of genes control the most fundamental parts of a dog's appearance. In one example, dogs range hugely in body size (think of a mastiff compared to a Chihuahua), but incredibly just three genes account for almost all of this difference in size.

Dogs and humans share a lot of diseases: cancer, diabetes, arthritis, to name a few and this new understanding of canine genetics may hold the long term key to curing the many illnesses that beset humans and dogs alike.


Audio flourishes in this week's Curiouser & Curiouser podcast include Bring It On No Vox by Jamie Miller and David Matheson; Parks on Fire by DJ Rkod; and Money Buys Results by Admiral Bob. Dog barking courtesy of Acclivity.