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Tag: dna

An understandable, but still wrong, case of dog cloning

Most people who get their dogs cloned — whether they are Barbra Streisand or a non-celebrity — do so in a misguided attempt to hang on, if not to that dog, at least to its memory.

A Michigan woman had a slightly different reason: She cloned her daughter’s dog to hang on to her daughter’s memory.

And, however much sympathy that might evoke, however difficult this is to say, that’s still every bit as misguided.

Photographer Monnie Must, who has spent her career capturing memories, lost her eldest daughter, Miya, to suicide almost 11 years ago.

Must took over the care of Miya’s two dogs, Henley and Billy Bean.

As the 10th anniversary of Miya’s death approached, Henley passed away. Billy, a black Lab, was about to turn 14.

“Billy was her (Miya’s) soul and the thought of losing her was more than I could possibly bear,” she said.

“I thought, I am going to clone her,” Must told Fox 2 in Detroit. “I don’t know where it came from. It wasn’t like I was reading about it, I just thought I am going to clone her.”

Must began researching what it would take to clone Billy, and ended up in contact with a U.S. company called PerPETuate, the only U.S. company offering the service. The cloning was accomplished in a lab operated by Viagen, a company that primarily clones livestock.

Two vials of tissue were taken from Billy, and scientists merged Billy’s cells with egg cells of of another dog, creating an embryo with Billy’s exact DNA.

That was implanted into a surrogate dog at a Rochester, N.Y., lab operated by Viagen.

Last October, they called to tell her they were going to do an ultrasound on Oct. 11 — Miya’s birthday.

“It’s like, really? Of all the dates?” Must said.

Eight weeks after the birth of the dog, named Gunni, Must, who lives in Sylvan Lake, Mich., flew to Rochester to pick her up.

“There was like an immediate bond between us, this dog. I just adore this dog.”

Now eight months old, Gunni’s appearance and personality strike her as identical to those of Billy.

“Billy was kind of a wild, crazy, happy dog – and Gunni is kind of a wild, crazy, happy dog and she is smart,” she said. “So all I can see so far.”

And here is where I need to stop and point out a few things.

Cloned dogs don’t always have the exact appearance as the original, and a “personality” match is even less likely. Often, when they do, it’s because surplus dogs have also been cloned. Souls, I’d respectfully argue, are not transferable. How many puppies have you known that aren’t wild, crazy and happy? What did Must really pay $50,000 for, and could not an equally similar dog been found at her local shelter?

Grief can lead us to do strange things — and that is what those who invented and marketed the service have counted on since the bump-filled beginning.

(You can read about that bumpy beginning in my book, “Dog, Inc.”)

PerPETuate reported on its that Facebook page that the dogs are physically similar, but that Gunni was not initially getting along with Billy Bean, the donor dog, who is still alive.

gunniandbilly“Billy Bean was envious of Gunni and would like to have had her out of the house! After weeks of sensitive management Billy and Gunni are sharing space and beginning to form a close relationship.”

Must says Gunni is “perfect” and that having her in her life has reduced her anxiety.

“A lot of people have feelings – is this right, is this wrong?” she said. “For me, this is what was going to make me function.” Those who would criticize her, she said, “are not in that position. You can’t walk in someone’s shoes. I hope no one else has to walk in those shoes.”

One never feels fully whole again after losing a child, she says, but with Gunni at her side she is able to feel joy again.

As one who can relate to that, I’m happy she found a pathway to joy, even though — sadly — it was not the right one.

Native American dogs were all but wiped out by settlers from Europe, study says


Ancient dogs arrived in the Americas alongside humans more than 10,000 years and — like those humans — were commonly exterminated by more newly arriving colonists from Europe, a new study suggests.

“European colonists viewed native dogs as kind of pests, and they freely killed them,” said Angela Perri, a research fellow at Durham University in England.

Colonists who killed entire villages of people would also kill their dogs. And when some early Spanish explorers would find themselves without enough food, they’d turn to native American dogs, she added.

In the study, researchers looked at genes from more than 71 archaeological dog remains in North America and Siberia and compared them with modern dog genes.

Perri, the study’s lead author, said it dispels the theory that dogs in the Americas evolved from wolves. The study was published July 5 in the journal Science.

The findings “put a nail in the coffin really for [that] idea,” she told Live Science. In the new data, “we just had absolutely no evidence of that.”

Instead, after analyzing samples from dog remains going back thousands of years from North America and Siberia, they suspect the first dogs came to the Americas more than 10,000 years ago, across the Bering land bridge that connected North America and Asia. The dogs dispersed across the Americas, where they lived for 9,000 years, isolated from the world.

Those were all but wiped out by early American settlers, and most American breeds today more likely trace their roots back to dogs brought to the country subsequently. Those include arctic dogs brought by the Thule people about 1,000 years ago, dogs brought by Europeans starting in the 15th century, and Siberian huskies brought to the American Arctic during the Alaskan gold rush.

By far, the introduction of European settlers and European dogs had the biggest impact on thinning out the ranks of native dogs, the study said.

“We suspect that a lot of the reasons [ancient] dogs were wiped out were similar reasons that Native American populations were destroyed,” Perri said. Europeans could have brought over diseases such as rabies and canine distemper that were probably not present in the Americas before.

Because settlers saw native American dogs as pests, they probably took steps to not let them breed with prized European dogs.

Indeed, out of 5,000 samples of modern dog genes, only five had genes that belonged to ancient dogs, and in those five, the ancient genes made up less than 2 percent of their genomes, Perri said.

The oldest known ancient American dog was found in Koster, Illinois, and lived around 9,900 years ago.

(Photo: Two dogs buried together in Illinois as long as 1,350 years ago; courtesy of Illinois State Archaeological Survey, Prairie Research Institute)

Another example of how humans and dogs are becoming more alike: our poop


It’s never really looked at it in its entirety, as one phenomenon, but how alike dogs and humans are — and keep becoming — continues to astound scientists around the globe.

Compassion? Both species seem to have it. Cognition? Dogs are quite capable of that, perhaps even exceeding us in certain areas. The diseases and disorders we get? Pretty much the same.

Not too many people look at the forest — at what all this, cobbled together, might mean — but scientists from particular disciplines, locked in a lab with a narrow focus, keep discovering new similarities, such as this latest one, deep in our intestines.

The microorganisms that live in dog’s intestines are more similar to the microbes inside us than to those in other animals, says a new study published in the journal Microbiome.

The dog microbiome “has some of the same species [of bacteria] as the human’s,” said lead author Luis Pedro Coelhos, “but different strains.”

The researchers were surprised because they expected that dogs would share only a few strains of bacteria with their owners. Instead, their intestinal flora could be cousins, says a summary of the study in Popular Science.

The study was not really about those similarities; it was aimed at better understanding canine weight loss.

Researchers at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory and Nestlé Purina Research worked with a sample of 32 beagles and 32 Labrador retrievers. Half of the members of each breed were overweight, while the other half were a healthy weight. For four weeks, they fed all of the dogs the same diet of Purina.

Then, they collected poop and conducted DNA analyses as they further altered the diets of the dogs.

They found the leaner dogs’ microbiomes changed much less than that of the overweight dogs. The findings, they say, gave then a baseline for how a healthy dog microbiome should behave, and suggested dogs may be better subjects for research into human weight loss than other species that have been used for that purpose.

Jack Gilbert, a researcher at the University of Chicago’s Microbiome Center who does research for Purina but was not involved in the study, told Popular Science the study was significant for what it showed about the similarities between the guts of dogs and our own.

“You can control a dog’s diet much more than you can do a human’s,” says Gilbert. The same is true for pigs and mice, but the fact that dogs have such a similar microbiomes to humans means that studying their response to certain diets could produce the best results.

The cause of the similarities isn’t entirely understood, but the study pointed out, “Dogs were domesticated early in modern human history and frequently shared food resources with humans.”

Over time, their digestive systems might have grown even more like our’s, and their obesity rates have come to mirror that of humans.

Further proof that we don’t just like each other, we are like each other — and in ways that continue to be discovered, as we sit around learning, bonding, loving, overeating and growing fat together, becoming, more and more, reflections of each other.

(Photo: Digital Vision/Getty)

Darwin’s Dogs: Organization tests dog DNA for free as part of research project

We doubt this is going over well with those companies who want to charge you upwards of $100 to tell you what breeds are in your dog, but a research-based organization is offering to do the same thing for free.

You might have to wait, though, and there will be some paperwork.

Darwin’s Dogs is a research project affiliated with the University of Massachusetts Medical School that uses your dog’s DNA, and other information you supply, to study the connection between DNA and behavior.

Thousands of dogs are now enrolled in the project, the initial goal of which was to look at obsessive-compulsive behavior in dogs. It has since branched into exploring food allergies among pets, CBS in Pittsburgh reports.

The first step in signing a dog up, though, remains providing a dog owner with a free DNA test, and a report on the findings.

That’s followed up with online questionnaires in which dog owners provide information on their dog’s traits and behaviors.

“We can study behavior in dogs really easily by just working with the dog owners, by just asking them with a goal of trying to look at how differences in a dog’s DNA matches up with differences in their behavior,” says Darwin’s Dogs researcher Elinor Karlsson.

They hope that causes to diseases and disorders can be found in dogs’ genetics — and that those could lead to breakthroughs in treating the same conditions in people.

“We don’t understand what causes these diseases and the only way to really find new treatments and new effective ways of treating them is to know what the cause is,” Karlsson said.

“Even though there are a lot of differences between dogs and humans, you look at the really important things that are relevant to health, there’s not that many differences. Dogs get the same cancers, the same psychiatric diseases that we do,” she added.

The DNA information the organization provides on your dog is roughly similar to that offered by products such as Wisdom Panel, DNA My Dog and Embark.

Darwin’s Dogs tests a saliva sample that you mail to them. Commercially available DNA tests use either saliva or, through veterinarians, blood.

Darwin’s Dogs is free — for now.

According to the Darwin’s Dogs website, demand has been so high for the test they might have to limit participants, or start charging in the future.

“We have been brainstorming ways of allowing our participants to contribute financially. We are committed to keeping the Darwin’s Dogs project free to anyone who is willing to participate, but with the cost of the genotyping this means we currently have to pick-and-chose which dogs to genotype based on the grant funding support we can receive. We are considering options to allow participants to contribute to offset those costs.

More information about the project can also be found in this Scientific American description.

After 38 years in prison, innocent man freed — and gets to bring his dog home, too

At first glance this story made no sense — a man who spent the past 38 years in prison wins his freedom when his innocence is finally proven and is reunited with his dog.

No dog — no matter how loyal to his owner — lives that long.

Turns out though, that Malcolm Alexander came into possession of the dog while serving his sentence at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, a facility which, while it has a reputation as a tough place, offers several dog programs and even breeds its own guard dogs.

Alexander, 58, had been proclaiming his innocence since he was convicted of sexual assault and sent to prison at age 20.

On Tuesday, he was welcomed home by his 82-year-old mother, his son and his grandson – both named Malcolm, and other relatives.

Earlier in the day, A Jefferson Parish judge vacated Alexander’s 1980 aggravated rape conviction and his mandatory life sentence after finding that Alexander had not been provided with adequate legal assistance, and that DNA evidence discovered in 2013 excluded Alexander as a suspect in the sexual assault.

After the ruling, Alexander did not return to the prison, where both his belongings and his dog remained.

innocenceThe next day, he was reunited with the huge black Lab, Nola.com reported.

“You ain’t got nothing to worry about no more,” he told the 9-month-old pup upon reuniting with him. “I told you we gonna be free. I told you they was gonna get us out.”

Alexander’s case was undertaken by The Innocence Project, which helped him gain his freedom.

Alexander had raised the dog since shortly after his birth. He named the dog Innocence, and calls him Inn for short.

Inn was born at the prison to another dog at the facility, according to Vanessa Potkin, an attorney with The Innocence Project.

Potkin and other staffers traveled to Angola Wednesday to retrieve Inn and Alexander’s property and return them to Alexander.

(Photo: Michelle Hunter \ NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

Researchers say the hyper-friendliness of dogs results from gene mutation

Researchers say they have pinpointed a gene mutation that explains why dogs are so hyper-friendly — one they believe could have played a role in their domestication.

The scientists say they have isolated two genes, variations in which lead to the hyper-friendliness and tail-wagging sociability that most dogs exhibit.

When I read the headlines I had two reactions. First, I didn’t want to believe that the love dogs display resulted from something as stark sounding as a “mutation.” Second, I decided I wanted those genes, and those mutations, inside me — and all humans.

Imagine how much better a place the world would be if we all got so excited we nearly peed when we greeted each other, covered the faces of friends and strangers with licks, and had that unconditional love and loyalty that dogs possess.

Interestingly, though, similar variations in those same genes are already inside a small number of us. The genes at issue — GTF2I and GTF2IRD1 — are the same ones that have been associated with a human disease called Williams-Beuren Syndrome (WBS), which causes developmental disabilities and many other health issues.

The condition is characterized by mild to moderate intellectual disability, unusual facial features, cardiovascular problems and other health issues. But it also can often lead to affected individuals having highly outgoing, engaging personalities and extreme interest in other people.

Having written about people with developmental disabilities for eight years as a reporter, I met more than a few people like that — in institutions, group homes, and living with their families. They’d come up and hug a complete stranger. They’d follow me around, paying attention to everything I did and said. They seemed to indiscriminately love everybody. They were hard to say goodbye to.

I didn’t know it was a result of their Williams-Beuren syndrome, or that there even was a Williams-Beuren syndrome (this was the 1980’s), just that they possessed an innocence and trust uncommon in our species. I can’t remember if, at the time, I saw that behavior as “dog-like.”

But some researchers did.

vonholdtBridgett vonHoldt, an evolutionary geneticist at Princeton University, and Monique Udell, who studies animal behavior at Oregon State University, met three years ago and started talking about dogs.

In an earlier study, vonHoldt had identified a gene that’s mutated more often in dogs than wolves — one that possibly led to their domestication.

Together, Udell and vonHoldt decided to examine the social behavior of a group of dogs and a group of wolves and then analyze their DNA in the region that included the genes in question.

The study they co-authored, using a combination of genetic sequencing and behavioral tests, pinpointed a couple genetic differences that seem to track with friendliness.

Using 16 dogs and eight captive, socialized wolves, they were able to establish that the dogs showed a greater variation, or mutation, of those genes. Animals with these mutations appeared to pay more attention to the humans than those without, the researchers said.

“We find that hyper-sociability, a central feature of WBS, is also a core element of domestication that distinguishes dogs from wolves,” the study concluded.

brubaker

The findings, in addition to providing new insights into the human disorder, could explain a large part of what led wolves to become domesticated, and how dogs evolved to become man’s best friend.

To learn more about the study, check out these reports from the
Los Angeles Times, Science and Princeton University.

(Photos: At top, Bridgett vonHoldt, an assistant professor in ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton and the study’s lead co-author, cuddles with her Old English Sheepdog, Marla, by Chris Fascenelli, Princeton University Office of Communications; at bottom, Lauren Brubaker, a graduate research assistant in the Department of Animal and Rangeland Sciences at Oregon State University and one of the study’s authors, interacts with a gray wolf, by Monty Sloan, via Princeton University Office of Communications)

Photo bomb: That wasn’t Amelia Earhart, after all; so, doggonit, the mystery lives on

notearhart

Two of the biggest news stories of the week — or at least the two most shouted about by the news media — were new evidence surfacing regarding Trump’s ties to Russia and new evidence surfacing in the disappearance of Amelia Earhart.

Revelations that Donald Trump Jr. had a meeting during the campaign with a Russian who promised some dirt on Hillary Clinton were called a “nothing burger” by Trump supporters. But, as the week progressed, it all started looking pretty meaty.

The other so-called investigative breakthrough — “experts” saying they found a photo that shows Earhart and her navigator in the custody of the Japanese on the Marshall Islands after their crash and disappearance in 1937 — turned out to be a totally meatless whopper.

apearhartBy which we don’t mean a lie — just a tremendously lazy mistake. The photo in question, it turns out, originally appeared in a travel book published two years before Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan even began the journey they wouldn’t return from.

The photo was the basis of an hour-long History Channel special Monday — one that was widely promoted in news programs as a possible solution to an 80-year old mystery.

Instead, the whole theory ended up holding about as much as (sorry, Geraldo) Al Capone’s vault.

It’s all just more proof that, when it comes to truth, when it comes to uncovering things, when it comes to unburying treasures, we’re better off putting our faith in dogs. Dogs aren’t concerned with making money, or getting famous, or one-upping, or getting in the last word, or getting interviewed by Matt Lauer.

We talked about the “Earhart photo” in a post earlier this week, but that post pertained more to another, less publicized effort to get to the bottom of the Earhart mystery, and how it had turned to some “bone sniffing dogs” in an attempt to find Earhart’s bones.

Operating on an alternate theory, and not buying the “photographic evidence,” a Pennsylvania-based group called The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) sent four border collies to a site they have been focusing on — a small coral atoll about 400 miles south of Howland Island.

Four dogs alerted to a spot in the area, and excavation ensued, but no bones were found.

They had hoped to find bones and, through DNA testing, link them to Earhart. Some small glimmers of hope remain. Dirt from the site has been sent to a lab though to see if any traces of human DNA remain in it, and there’s a possibility that human DNA could be found in crabs that scavenged on any bones.

nothing burgerThat quest could turn out to be a “nothing burger,” too, but even so it won’t be as embarrassing as the efforts of Les Kinney, the former treasury agent who came across a photo in the National Archives that he and others were highly convinced depicted Earhart and her navigator in Japanese custody.

That led to History Channel documentary, “Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence,” which aired Sunday and concluded that, based on the photo and other evidence, Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan ended up in Japanese custody on the Marshall Islands after they survived a crash landing.

The documentary touted the image as “the key to solving one of history’s all-time greatest mysteries.”

Many a news organization billed the photo that way, too, until Wednesday, when they all started backtracking after learning a Tokyo-based blogger unearthed the same photograph in the archives of Japan’s national library. It had appeared in a book — published in 1935.

Kota Yamano, a military history blogger, ran an online search using the keyword “Jaluit atoll” and a decade-long time frame starting in 1930.

“The photo was the 10th item that came up,” he said, along with its source — a travel book published two years before Earhart began the attempted around the world journey in 1937.

The Internet search took all of 30 minutes, he said.

“I was really happy when I saw it, Yamano said. “I find it strange that the documentary makers didn’t confirm the date of the photograph or the publication in which it originally appeared. That’s the first thing they should have done.”

Major news media didn’t do that, either, opting to put more effort into hyping the story than doing a little digging of their own.

So thanks to Koto Yamano for letting us know the “Earhart photo” was a “nothing burger.” (Maybe we should have him figure out this whole Russia and Trump thing.)

According to the website knowyourmeme.com — if we are to believe it — the earliest known usage of the term “nothing burger” was by Hollywood gossip columnist Louella Parsons. She used it in reference to actor Farley Granger, whose acting chops she apparently questioned.

When the actor was released from his contract with Samuel Goldwyn’s studio, MGM, in 1953, she wrote “After all, if it hadn’t been for Sam Goldwyn Farley might very well be a nothing burger.”

The concept — though the term wasn’t used — was pretty much the basis of Wendy’s old “Where’s the beef?” advertising campaign, and the phrase itself has enjoyed a revival this year, thanks mainly to politics, and the presidential campaign, and the Internet, where we don’t seem to agree on anything except what cool-sounding phrase we all want to use, be it “game changer” or “nothing burger.”

If the Amelia Earhart mystery ever is solved, I suspect dogs will be part of that resolution, probably DNA, too — but not emails, not quickie documentary makers trying to sell a story, and definitely not politicians.

(Photos: At top, the photo some investigators said included Earhart, after her plane crashed, as it appeared in Umi no seimeisen : Waga nannyou no sugata, a photo book in Japan’s national library published in 1935; below, the actual Earhart in an Associated Press photo; at bottom, an actual nothing burger)