Sunday, October 09, 2005

How the brain went bow-wow   posted by Razib @ 10/09/2005 11:09:00 PM

From wild wolf to domestic dog: gene expression changes in the brain:

Despite the relatively recent divergence time between domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) and gray wolves (Canis lupus), the two species show remarkable behavioral differences. Since dogs and wolves are nearly identical at the level of DNA sequence, we hypothesize that the two species may differ in patterns of gene expression...Our results suggest that strong selection on dogs for behavior during domestication may have resulted in modifications of mRNA expression patterns in a few hypothalamic genes with multiple functions. This study indicates that rapid changes in brain gene expression may not be exclusive to the development of human brains. Instead, they may provide a common mechanism for rapid adaptive changes during speciation, particularly in cases that present strong selective pressures on behavioral characters.

It is interesting to note that Nazi-sympathizing scientist1 Konrad Lorenz (co-inventor of modern ethology along with Nikko Timbergen) actually extrapolated from animals to humans in warning about the dangers of "domestication." My recollection is the average wolf is more intelligent than the average domestic dog, though I am would not be surprised if the variation within dogs is great enough that border collies are brighter than the wolves that it was bred to keep an eye on.

1 - Anyone who doubts the label "Nazi-sympathizing" should read The Ape and the Sushi Master, Frans de Waals' series of essays about primatology and ethology where Lorenz's history is detailed, though Waals is clearly sympathetic to the doyen of his profession and tries to make a good show of apologia via some hand waving.