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Tag: research

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)

This robot dog would be more than a toy

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Robot dogs are a dime a dozen — well, not quite, the latest Sony Aibo goes for about $1,700 — but the point is they’ve become pretty common in the overpriced toy market.

A researcher at the University of Washington, though, is working on a version of a robot dog that promises to do more than than sit and bark and (though real dogs seldom do this) play music that you program into them.

Normally, when we hear the phrase artificial intelligence we think of intelligence that mimics that of a human.

Kiana Ehsani and colleagues have gathered a unique data set of canine behavior and used it to train an AI system to make dog-like decisions, according to MIT Technology Review.

They say their approach opens up a new area of AI research that studies the capabilities of other intelligent beings on our planet, which strikes me as a good thing — given how humans often botch things up.

To gather their initial data, the team fitted a dog with inertial measurement units on its legs, tail, and body to record. They also fitted a GoPro camera to the dog’s head to record the visual scene, sampled at a rate of five frames per second, and a microphone on the dog’s back to record sound.

It gathered about 24,500 video frames with synchronized body position and movement data to further understand how dogs, act, plan and learn, and to try to predict a dog’s future movements based on those recorded ones.

The researchers say the system got the point that it could accurately predict the next five movements after seeing a sequence of five images.

No actual dog robot was built, just an AI system, but the far away goal appears to be a robot dog that could do everything a real dog does, up to and including sniffing out a trail, and helping the blind.

Of course we already have an abundance of dogs with a built-in knack for those kind of things but, human intelligence being what it is, we want to duplicate it in machine form. And more to the point, there are things to be learned in doing so.

The team loaded up a Malamute named Kelp M. Redmon with sensors, to record movements, video of the dog’s viewpoint, and a microphone.

They recorded hours of activities — walking in various environments, fetching things, playing at a dog park, eating — syncing the dog’s movements to what it saw.

The resulting data was used to train a new AI agent.

Their work so far gathered data from just one dog, and it was primarily on what the dog saw and heard and the movements it made. Much more baseline data would be needed to get anywhere — and giving a robot a nose able to sniff out all that dogs to would surely be daunting, if even doable.

But the research is continuing, and the researchers feel the approach could be used to better understand the intelligence of other animals as well, TechCrunch reported.

“We hope this work paves the way towards better understanding of visual intelligence and of the other intelligent beings that inhabit our world,” Ehsani said.

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.

Dogs: We feared, and ate them, and exploited them, before we befriended them

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OK, so it wasn’t love at first sight.

Before dogs became fully domesticated, there were long stretches of time that humans lived in tension with canines — both wolves and dogs — fearing them, eating them, and skinning them for their pelts.

New research published recently in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports concludes the remains of dogs found in Western Europe shows that domestication was neither a quick nor tidy affair.

And one that obviously didn’t happen everywhere at once.

As a result, both wolves and dogs were hunted — dogs maybe even more because they were easier prey.

The research is outlined in a recent Smithsonian article.

The researchers analyzed stable isotopes in the remains. Stable isotopes are forms of atoms that leave behind signatures in biological samples, revealing details about diet, environment and other conditions.

Through them, scientist say, they can learn more about the changing nature of the relationship between humans and dogs between the Middle and Late Stone Age. Most researchers agree that the domestication of dogs dates back 15,000 years or more, and that it first occurred somewhere in Eurasia.

“At that time (the relationship) obviously fluctuated,” says Stefan Ziegler, a co-author of the study. “Sometimes people ate their dogs and sometimes they just used them as guard dogs and maybe even pets.”

The recent study could also provide a new tool for archaeologists trying to get a better grasp on whether newly discovered remains are those of wolves or dogs.

Archaeologists have traditionally based their belief on whether remains are those of a dog or a wolf by relying on bone size, but the stable isotopes may provide a better clue, the study says.

“The data show that dogs and wolves must generally have had a different diet, which is reflected in the altered isotope ratios. Dogs could occasionally access human food sources and their diet must have been either more omnivorous or monotonous than that of wolves, depending on the feeding regime,” the authors say in the study.

(Photo: Lateral view of a lumbar vertebra of a Late Mesolithic dog from Germany with several cut marks by a flint knife, by Jörg Ewersen, via Smithsonian)

Chinese scientists clone the world’s first primate; two macaque monkeys are born

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Nearly 13 years after the cloning of a dog, the species man is emotionally closest to, Chinese scientists have announced the first successful cloning of the animal man is physically closest to — the monkey.

Using the same basic technique that created Dolly the sheep in Scotland, the world’s first cloned mammal, and Snuppy the Afghan hound in South Korea, scientists in China produced two identical clones of a macaque, reigniting concerns among some that attempts to clone man are on the horizon.

The newborns — the world’s first cloned primates — were named Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua, after a Mandarin term for the Chinese nation and people.

The two healthy baby macaques were the only ones to survive to birth out of 127 altered egg cells implanted into more than 60 surrogate mothers.

The scientists behind the project said they followed the techniques of somatic cell nuclear transfer, but made a few refinements along the way. Unlike with Dolly and Snuppy, fetal cells were used rather than adult ones

Mu-ming Poo, director of the Chinese Academy of Sciences’s Institute of Neuroscience in Shanghai, who led the work, said further refinement of their methods would lead to higher success rates, Combining the cloning with gene editing will allow researchers to create “ideal nonhuman primate models” for studying disease mechanisms and screening drugs, he said.

So in answer to the seldom asked (at least by scientists) question — why clone monkeys? — that’s your immediate answer: As fodder for laboratory experiments.

The team behind the monkey cloning acknowledges that the work raises ethical questions, but Poo said he doubted it would lead to cloning man: “I would think society and the general public and governments will not allow extension of this method from nonhuman primates to humans.”

Science magazine reports that ethicists are also concerned about the monkeys themselves. “At present, it has not been sufficiently demonstrated that there are no alternatives to using macaque monkeys for such research,” Peter Dabrock, an ethicist at Friedrich-Alexander University in Erlangen, Germany, wrote in a statement.

Using nonhuman primates for research is more accepted in China than in the West, Poo said, adding “Once we demonstrate the cloned monkey’s usefulness in curing disease, I hope [Western societies] will gradually change their minds.”

He said the group is following international guidelines for the treatment and care of their monkeys.

Scientists around the world have cloned more than 20 species since Dolly the sheep was created in 1996, including dog, cat, horses, pigs, cows, rabbits, rats and mice,

Attempts to clone primates, however, had been unsuccessful, and some experts suspected primates might be resistant to the procedure.

The Chinese team reported in the Feb. 8 edition of the journal Cell that it’s difficult, but possible. The team succeeded, after many attempts, by using modulators to switch on or off certain genes that were inhibiting embryo development.

In all, it took more than 100 egg cells — merged with donor cells and implanted into surrogates — to produce two live macaque births.

Using adult cells, they achieved 22 pregnancies in 42 surrogates. That produced two births but neither survived. When they cloned using fetal monkey cells, six pregnancies were confirmed in 21 surrogates and yielded two healthy babies.

While the scientists celebrate their achievement, animal welfare groups, including PETA, condemned it.

“Cloning is a horror show: A waste of lives, time, and money – and the suffering that such experiments cause is unimaginable,” said Dr. Julia Baines, Science Policy Adviser at PETA UK. “Because cloning has a failure rate of at least 90 per cent, these two monkeys represent misery and death on an enormous scale.”

(Photo: Qiang Sun and Mu-ming Poo/Chinese Academy of Sciences)

PETA disrupts the Belk Bowl as protestors call for end to Texas A&M dog experiments

By today, you’ve probably had your fill of chips, dips and bowl games, but you might have missed this small scale demonstration staged by PETA protestors at the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, which saw Wake Forest University take on Texas A&M.

PETA has also taken on Texas A&M, calling upon the school to cease experiments on golden retrievers in which they are bred to develop a crippling canine form of muscular dystrophy.

On Friday, three PETA supporters wearing sweatshirts and brandishing signs reading, “TAMU: Stop Cruel Dog Tests,” rushed onto the field after A&M scored its first touchdown.

Texas A&M lost the game, 55-52.

For decades, generations of dogs have suffered and died in gruesome experiments at the school, PETA says — experiments that haven’t led to a cure for muscular dystrophy in humans.

PETA is calling on Texas A&M to shut down the laboratory, stop experimenting on golden retrievers, and release all surviving dogs for adoption.

Earlier this year, two PETA protesters were forcibly removed from the University of Texas Board of Regents meeting after demanding the board stop funding the research.

PETA has long been campaigning to bring an end to the research project — a cause whose supporters include comedian Bill Maher, and former A&M quarterback Ryan Tannenhill, both of whom have characterized the research as cruel.

PETA has also released video footage showing golden retrievers and other dogs in TAMU labs who were suffering from canine MD and could barely walk or swallow.

The leader of the research, Joe Kornegay, has defended the project by saying it seeks to find a cure for the debilitating disease in both humans and dogs, and that — doomed as they might be to a life of suffering — dogs brought into the world for use in the experiments are treated well.

Kornegay has said dogs are bred with the disease because researchers can’t find enough canine participants who are already afflicted.

Chinese scientists clone dogs with heart disease — and call it an achievement

longlong

China says it has managed to join South Korea as a world leader in canine cloning — by managing to create a clone of a sick dog.

Longlong, a beagle, was born with a blood-clotting disorder, and that was just what the scientists were hoping for.

The pup is a clone of Apple, a different dog whose genome was edited to develop the disease atherosclerosis, CNN reported.

longlong1By cloning the bioengineered dog, the scientists ensured they will have a good supply of diseased dogs for experiments they say could lead to cures for the condition that causes strokes and heart disease in humans.

Longlong was created by the Beijing-based biotech company Sinogene, which is boasting about having created the world’s first dog cloned from a gene-edited donor.

With Longlong’s birth, and two more clones of the bio-engineered dog being born since then, the scientists claimed that China had matched South Korea as a leader in canine cloning technology. South Korean scientists cloned the first dog, an Afghan hound named Snuppy, in 2005.

“Dogs share the most inheritable diseases with human beings, which makes them the best disease models to study,” says Feng Chong, technical director at Sinogene.

While the pups haven’t shown any signs of cardiovascular disease yet, their cloning ensures they will get it. Experimental drugs to treat cardiovascular diseases are already being tested on them.

Longlong’s birth combined two technologies: A gene-editing tool called CRISPR with somatic cell cloning technology, the method used to clone Dolly the sheep and later, Snuppy.

Zhao Jianping, vice manager of Sinogene, says the company’s success in dog cloning is about 50%. Two surrogate dogs out of four gave birth to three cloned puppies. The other two did not get pregnant.

Scientists at Sinogene believe their work aids the future of pharmaceutical development and biomedical research and it plans to produce more cloned dogs like Longlong.

“Gene-edited dogs are very useful for pharmaceutical companies,” said Feng. “The supply falls short of the demand every year.”

(Poor little pharmaceutical companies.)

The scientists also say cloning bio-engineered dogs to create puppy clones that will be born with the disease is kinder than the previous method of creating atherosclerosis in lab dogs — namely, force feeding with meals high in sugar.

Scientists, in case you haven’t noticed, have also invented a way to justify just about anything they want to do.

So if you want to hail this as a great achievement in technology, go ahead. I prefer to see it as scientists taking another giant stride toward playing God — giveth-ing life to dogs, only to taketh it away. Mankind may benefit (or at least live a longlong time), but rest assured the biggest gains will go to pharmaceutical companies.

(Photos: CNN)