Saturday, September 22, 2007

Behavioral genetics getting molecular   posted by p-ter @ 9/22/2007 07:54:00 PM

This week's Science has a news article detailing the strides being made in dog genetics since the publication of the dog genome. Dogs should be one of the best model organisms for studying the genetics of behavior-- artificial selection on behavioral traits over the centuries should allow the relevant genes to be isolated with much more ease than normal. It will be an interesting few years:
The rapid progress in dog genetics is prompting some researchers to get back to studies that motivated a canine genome project in the first place: tracking down genes associated with behavioral traits. Neff has teamed up with Illumina Inc. in San Diego, California, to use a microarray to look for SNPs associated with "pointing." About 40 breeds point--freezing and lifting a paw in the direction of a rabbit or other quarry. "I finally feel we have a chance to understand the behavior," says Neff, who worked with Rine in the 1990s.
At the Norwegian School of Veterinary Science in Oslo, Frode Lingaas is taking a similar tack in looking into "cocker rage." In this syndrome, generally amiable pets turn on their owners, exhibiting frighteningly aggressive behavior. He and his European colleagues assess the dogs' personalities through interviews with the owners and questionnaires. Several hundred samples will come from English cocker spaniels, but a few will come from English springer spaniels, which are also prone to this mental disorder. These dogs should get the researchers close to the gene, and a comparison with golden retrievers, which can also be four-legged Jeckylls and Hydes, should get them within striking distance.