Doggone! Gene Research Leads to Surprises for Dog Lovers
Breeds Thought to Be Ancient Are More Modern, Study Finds
By Rob Stein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 24, 2004; Page A10
Ancient Egyptian tombs are adorned with drawings and sculptures of sleek, slender-necked canines with pointy ears and long snouts. Many dog lovers have long thought that two breeds alive today -- the Ibizan hound and the Pharaoh hound -- were direct descendants of these regal companions of the pharaohs.
New research, however, concludes something very different: Both breeds, along with several others that dog aficionados have long believed dated back thousands of years, are actually much more modern animals -- re-creations that were probably produced by breeders.
The findings have sent reverberations though the ranks of dog fanciers, who primp and preen their beloved companions for shows and take great pride in their pedigrees.
"This is clearly going to raise some eyebrows in the Pharaoh hound world," said Greg Witt, vice president of the Pharaoh Hound Club of America. "It goes against our belief system. People are pretty passionate about their dogs. There is going to be disbelief."
The findings come from the first detailed genetic comparison of the genes of purebred dogs. As part of an ambitious effort to identify genes that cause disease in dogs and humans, scientists at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle analyzed DNA collected from 414 dogs representing 85 breeds, including some of the most popular.
Using 96 distinct patterns in the genes called "microsatellites," the researchers compared dogs within breeds, and breeds with one another. In the May 21 issue of the journal Science, the team concluded that almost every breed was surprisingly distinct genetically. They were able to identify each dog's breed by its genes with 99 percent accuracy.
In addition, the researchers found that breeds could be clearly grouped into four distinct clusters based on striking similarities in their genes:
• Ancient dogs.
• Those bred originally mainly as hunters.
• A group with many breeds traditionally used as herders.
• A group with several breeds widely employed as guard dogs.
The most ancient breeds all had Asian and African origins and were the most closely related to wolves, from which all dogs descended. The group includes breeds such as the Alaskan malamute and the Siberian husky, which resemble wolves, but also a diverse array of very different-appearing breeds, such as the Samoyed, basenji, Saluki, Afghan, Lhasa apso, Pekingese, Shar-Pei, Shih Tzu and Akita.
"You would not be surprised that the husky goes with the malamute, and that the Shih Tzu and the Pekingese go together, but you would not necessarily put them all in the same group," said Leonid Kruglyak, a geneticist who helped conduct the research.
Even more surprisingly, that group does not include a number of breeds long thought of as the most ancient, including the Pharaoh hound and the Ibizan hound , despite their striking resemblance to dogs depicted in ancient Egyptian art.
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