BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: dogs

Neurological Implications of a Dog’s Brain

In this article, the brains of dogs and their neurological capacity is explored.

Biology Letters published their results on the mechanisms of a dog’s brain.

Gregory Berns, a senior on this study stated, “Our work not only shows that dogs use a similar part of their brain to process numbers of objects as humans do — it shows that they don’t need to be trained to do it.”

In the study, an fMRI was used to scan the dogs’ brains. On these images, it was shown that the parietotemporal cortex produced a lot of contrast and response.

This system supports the ability to rapidly estimate of objects in a scene, such as the number of threats approaching or the amount of food available.

However, much of the research conducted included an intensive training of the dogs.

Berns is founder of the Dog Project which is an organization that studies the evolution of dogs. The project was to first to train dogs to voluntarily enter an fMRI scanner.

Berns states his findings, “Our results provide some of the strongest evidence yet that numerosity is a shared neural mechanism that goes back at least that far.”

Overall this study found that “new canine numerosity study suggests that a common neural mechanism has been deeply conserved across mammalian evolution.”‘

Is Training Your Dog Useless?

For about 100 years, humans have been trying to train the domestic animals, such as dogs, that they live with. They put in lots of time and effort for teach their dogs simple tricks such as sitting, lying down, and staying in place. While it is rewarding to have a dog listen to commands after teaching and training them, this may not as great of an accomplishment as previously thought. As a dog owner myself, this had me worried, but as a recent ScienceNews post says, the answer to how to train a dog may just lie in their genetics. 

Training Dogs May Be an Outdated Practice

This was the hypothesis that Noah Snyder-Mackler had as he and a few other colleagues from the University of Washington in Seattle attempted to prove its legitimacy. Primarily, the group collected data about 101 different breeds of dogs from two dog genotypes databases and a survey titled C-BARQ, a survey where dog owners submit information about behavior from their dogs such as aggressiveness or ability to listen. As the data came in, there were over 14,000 submissions and they were all scored on 14 different traits. Overall, Snyder-Mackler and his group found that poodles and border collies had higher traits of trainability and Chihuahuas and dachshunds had higher traits of aggressiveness. However this does not means that training a dog is rendered useless since there was about a small correlation, 50%, between energy level and fearfulness.

Aggression Could Have Been Caused from Genetics

Next the researchers tried to see if certain traits correlated with certain genes. After doing more research they found that no genes specially aligned with a breeds behaviors, but this does not mean that the research is useless since even though this  does not show that a gene brings about a behavioral trait, but it shows that this subject needs more research to be able to determine the validity of Snyder-Mackler’s original hypothesis.

Dogs are very complex genetically and therefore behavioral traits are both a combination of genetics and training. As Carlos Alvarez, a researcher at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, says, “Dogs are a really powerful system to investigate the genetics of many traits and diseases because generations of domestication and breeding have simplified their genomes. This study shows that behavior is no different.” Overall while this research is just the start and is incomplete in totality, it shows that there is much more to discover regarding this topic. If you have any traits that you think correlate with either your dog’s genes or breed, please post a comment a explain why.

 

Hope for Duchenne Patients?

Duchenne muscular dystrophy is a genetic disorder currently without a cure. It causes progressive muscle degeneration and weakness. Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, or DMD, is characterized by an absence of dystrophinDystrophin is a protein that keeps muscles intact, which when absent lead to a loss of muscle function and strength. This lack of dystrophin begins in early childhood between ages three and five mostly in males with 1 in 5,000 males inflicted and a rare

File:PBB Protein DMD image.jpg

Dystrophin Protein

occurrence in females. By later ages, individuals are forced into wheelchairs and put on respirators as their diaphragms weaken until an early death usually in their 20’s or early 30’s due to heart failure or an inability to breath.

Despite not having a cure for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, scientists are performing the first trials in large mammals, dogs. Many dog breeds can also be inflicted by the lack of dystrophin and thus have Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Four of these inflicted dogs have been chosen at only one-month-old to be treated using a harmless virus called adeno-associated virus or AAV. This harmless virus is delivering the CRISPR Cas9 protein gene-editing components to make a single strategic cut in faulty DNA to “exon 51, one of the 79 exons that comprise the dystrophin gene.”

File:MuscularDystrophy.png

Right Affected Individual        Left Unaffected Individual

These dogs were tracked and within several weeks of the CRISPR editing the missing protein was reported in muscle tissue throughout the body with as much as 92% correction in the heart and 58% correction within the diaphragm, which is the main muscle needed for breathing. While there is a clear success in the current trials with improvements greater than 15%, they are still far from human clinical trials as the question still remains if the stable levels of dystrophin do not have adverse side effects. The corrections made using CRISPR was previously noted in having successfully corrected mice and human cells only increasing the hope provided by these trials. The trial is already being called “promising” and might one day be considered “groundbreaking.”

Not only providing hope for those with DMD, but these trials also provide a significant step towards single gene editing to treat an incurable disease. While larger studies are still to be conducted, the individuals working on this study at the Royal Veterinary College in London and UT Southwestern Medical Center in the United States are eager for the study to grow. One such leader in this study, Dr.Olson from UT Southwestern has even gone as far as spawning a biotechnological company called Exonics Therapeutics Inc. with the hope of further optimizing this technology for the clinic on top of his role at the University.  

AminoKassid

Doggone Average

Studies have shown that, when compared to other social hunters and carnivorans (an order including dogs, wolves, bears, lions, and hyenas), dogs are not as exceptionally clever as humans might think. Researchers from the University of Exeter and Canterbury Christ Church University tested dogs in trials against other animals in this order. They set out to prove how “clever” dogs really were.

They found that, in previous tests, dogs were commonly compared to chimpanzees, where they often won (which only added to dogs’ reputations). But, when these researchers tested dogs against other social hunters and carnivorans, dogs did not test so well. In fact, dogs may have been domesticated so much that their instincts are now no longer as refined as their wild counterparts. Wolves, who still must hunt for their next meal, will need more honed instincts to survive. In the end, the results weren’t a disappointment. Instead, they were a social commentary on the expectations people put on their pets.

Czechoslovak Wolf Dog “Luna” Chews on Stick

 

 

The Weirder Side of CRISPR

If you’ve been following science news at all, you’ve heard of CRISPR, the gene-editing tool which is rapidly becoming a very hot topic. Since its discovery, CRISPR has been used for some truly extraordinary things. It’s also done some other things, which stray from medical miracles into the realm of the strange.

Alphr.com reports some of the weirder projects using CRISPR. This includes manufacturing super-dogs, as well as the possibility of bringing back the woolly mammoth! This is all being done as you read this through CRISPR CAS-9

Another project mentioned in the article is an effort to create organs in pigs suitable for human transplants. This has become a larger topic of conversation, as there is always an ample need for organs, and if this project comes to fruition, waiting lists for organ transplants could possibly be abolished completely.

To read the other weird projects using CRISPR right now, check out the article.

Comment below your thoughts on this article, and the uses of CRISPR in general. I, for one, would love to see a mammoth before my own eyes!

Smile, it makes your dog happy!

Looking at your dog can bring a smile to your face, and looking at you can actually make your dog smile too!  A new study shows that dogs have an emotional response to our facial expressions; dogs like smiling faces, and don’t like angry faces. This is linked to the hormone oxytocin, which influences what and how a dog emotionally experiences what it sees. Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter, dubbed the “love hormone,” so an increase in oxytocin yields a positive reaction.

University of Helsinki researchers studied 43 domestic dogs. The dogs were presented with pictures of unfamiliar faces with happy or angry expressions. Each dog was tested twice; once under the influence of oxytocin, and once without oxytocin. The dogs reactions were determined by their gaze and pupil size, because emotions and attentiveness regulate these reactions (for more information on the relationship between pupil size and emotions, click here). According to the authors, “dogs typically focus on the most remarkable aspect of each situation, such as threatening stimuli in a frightening situation.” Therefore in the trial, dogs will focus on the most remarkable face, either the happy or angry one.

The dogs under the influence of oxytocin were more interested in the smiling faces, and the oxytocin influenced their emotional state, as indicated by their pupil size. They had a larger emotional response to smiling faces under oxytocin, because their pupils were wider. When the dogs weren’t under the influence of oxytocin, their pupils were wider when looking at angry faces, so they were more focused on and had a larger emotional response to the angry faces. The researchers concluded that oxytocin made the angry faces seem less threatening, and the happy faces seem more appealing. This is why the dogs focused on happy faces with oxytocin, and angry faces without oxytocin.

This photo is credited to Max Pixel.

To further the studies, the scientists said that more studies are needed to determine wether the results are only for domestic dogs or if the same reaction occurs with other animals. More studies should also be conducted on dogs with familiar faces, to see if familiarity would change the results of oxytocin on emotional face processing. They also added that in future studies, account of the dog breed, sex, and personality traits should be taken into account because oxytocin does not have uniform effects.

For more information, click here. For the research, click here.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

Skip to toolbar