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Tag: farming

How farming changed dogs — and us

bread

It’s no big surprise — given it’s what led them to befriend us in the first place — that dogs have been dining on our scraps since early in their domestication.

What’s more interesting is how dogs adapted to our junk food ways.

A team of researchers from France, Sweden and Romania has found evidence indicating that domesticated dogs underwent a genetic transformation, developing multiple copies of a gene that aids in the digestion of starch.

That’s the same thing we humans did, when we made the transition from a hunting to a farming society, consuming more starches and vegetable and less meat.

In their paper published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, the team describes what they found out by conducting a DNA analysis of ancient dog teeth and other bones.

They conclude that, around 7000 years ago, domesticated dogs were eating so much wheat and millet they made extra copies of starch-digesting genes to help them cope.

starchIn other words, as we began consuming more starches, so too — via our leftovers — did the dogs that were compromising their wolfy ways to hang around with us.

That we and dogs can have our genes altered by the food we consume and the repeated behaviors we engage in, is kind of intriguing, and kind of scary — and it brings new credence to the old phrase “you are what you eat.”

Some of the first insights into how farming changed the canine genome came three years ago, according to Sciencemag.com

That’s when a team led by evolutionary geneticist Erik Axelsson of Uppsala University in Sweden discovered that dogs have four to 30 copies of a gene called Amy2B, whereas wolves typically only have two.

The new study sought to get a better handle on when that happened.

Axelsson teamed up with Morgane Ollivier, a paleogeneticist at Ecole Normale Supéieure de Lyon in France and others, who extracted ancient DNA from the bones and teeth of 13 wolf and dog specimens collected from archaeological sites throughout Eurasia.

Four of the ancient dogs — from a 7000-year-old site in Romania and 5000-year-old sites in Turkey and France — had more than eight copies of Amy2B, Ollivier and his colleagues reported in Royal Society Open Science.

The findings rule out a modern origin for the increase in the number of Amy2B genes in dogs.

pastaDogs were likely domesticated more than 15,000 years ago, and likely continued eating mostly meat after that, as they became hunting companions to humans.

As humans turned to farming, the number of copies of Amy2B increased — first in us, then in dogs.

Being able to survive on whatever humans discarded likely enabled dogs to become widespread as people migrated across the globe, the scientists say.

It’s food for thought — how what we eat, or other repeated practices, can lead, far down the road, to alterations in our DNA.

Might scientists discover, generations from now, for example, that we humans have developed a selfie-taking gene that won’t let us stop taking excessive photos of ourselves?

They’ll name it 02BME.

The Grapes of George (and other crops)

I’m not sure who’s behind it, but in the flatlands of eastern Washington — before the westbound traveler gets to the far more magnificent side of the state — someone has decided to label the crops.

“Crop names in fence lines next 14 miles,” reads a sign on Interstate 90, somewhere west of Moses Lake and east of a town named George.

I like this idea. For one thing, it turns a fairly boring drive into a learning experience. For another, possibly, it makes people a little more aware of/involved in the place they’re at — as opposed to the text they’re sending, the video game they’re playing, or the cell phone on which they’re blabbing.

It’s kind of like a picture book for kids: Here is the field corn, here is the alfalfa. You don’t even have to turn the page, just your head. On your left, potatoes; on your right, peppermint. Here is a field of … wheat. Here is a field of … grapes (wrathless variety, it appeared). Here is some Timothy. Timothy? (It’s a kind of hay.)

For 14 miles, on both sides of the highway, I got a lesson in agriculture — thanks to, I’d guess, the state or some agricultural commission. I wanted to learn more about crops, including why every state seems to package its hay differently. But the lesson came to an end; and as I progressed west, instead of crop signs, the only ones I saw in the fence lines — not counting those of politicians — said “For Sale.”

It struck me as a good idea, though, all this labeling and identifying — one that, if carried to extremes, could both create jobs and lead to a more informed public.

In addition to crop identifiers, why not farm animal identifiers: Sheep, goats, cows, llamas? Tree identifiers that would help us differentiate between our birch and our aspen? Factory identifiers that tell us what’s being made inside that big building? A much needed explanation of what silos (a) hold and (b) are for? The American public would get a better understanding of the importance of farming, and everything else we take for granted.

(Label this idea satire, but only kind of.)

Of course we don’t want drivers reading signs so much that they neglect their driving, but it’s nice to see signs that inform, instead of those that merely advertise, or give harsh orders — as if we were dogs or something: “No this … No that … Stay in lane … Right lane must exit … ”

I’m tired, too, of the signs that scare us: Dangerous Crosswinds Ahead, Watch for Ice, High Accident Area, Gas: $3.15.

We tend to readily identify dangers, we profusely post rules, we slap advertising everywhere — so why not label the run of the mill good stuff, like cows and creeks, steaming bowls of oatmeal and doers of good deeds?

My label-everything-on-earth plan could help the economy. Think of all the jobs. Think of the stimulus. We would need more signmakers, more sign putter-uppers, more sign repairers, more sign changers — for when the crops are rotated, or the landscape changes.

Maybe knowing what’s what would help us appreciate our Earth a little more, teach us to better “live in the moment.” Or maybe not. In any event, here’s the one I want to see:

A sign that the economy is improving.

Making the case for eating our dogs

eatinganimals_200Another book has come out that makes the case for eating our dogs.

On the heels of “Time to Eat the Dog,” by New Zealand professors Brenda and Robert Vale, who admit their title is mostly a shock tactic and who don’t actually propose consuming our pets, comes Jonathan Safran Foer with “Eating Animals,” who says eating our dogs would be no more barbaric than our consumption of pigs, cattle, chickens, etc.

For Foer, interviewed on NPR’s All Things Considered yesterday, the idea of consuming dogs makes even more sense, on some levels, than eating animals raised to be food.

“For the ecologically-minded,” he writes, “it’s time to admit that dog is realistic food for realistic environmentalists.” That last part sounds almost like an advertising slogan, doesn’t it?

Foer’s book was also excerpted in the Wall Street Journal last week, so it’s probably OK if we cut off and chew on a little piece of it here:

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