About This Project
My lab studies the genetic changes that promoted the domestication of dogs from wolves. We recently found a few genetic mutations that occur in both dogs and wolves that appear to increase their friendliness towards humans. I hypothesize that these genes harbor more mutations in dogs that further increase friendly behavior. To test this, we need to sequence nine canines. We have sequenced six, and the funding will go towards completing the remaining three sequences.
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What is the context of this research?
My research group recently identified an association between genetic insertions and a canine’s friendliness towards humans (vonHoldt et al. 2017). These mutations are far more frequent in dogs, and may provide a novel insight into canine personality variation. Interestingly, when many of these same genes are deleted in humans, they are known to cause a behavioral syndrome called Williams-Beuren Syndrome (WBS). Among a number of central traits, WBS is often identified by extreme friendliness and lacking a fear of strangers. However, in canines, we see genetic insertions instead of the deletions found in humans.
What is the significance of this project?
We will explore the possibility that the same set of genes that cause WBS in humans may actually have been under selection when we domesticated wolves. Further, we are working to understand the molecular changes that occurred during the domestication process of wolves to dogs. In understanding the genes that experienced artificial selection during dog domestication and breed formation, we will begin to understand the genetics underpinnings of canine personality and behavioral differences.
What are the goals of the project?
We will collect Bionano sequence data from nine genomes representing a wide diversity of canines, from wild gray wolves to domestic dogs of various ancestries. We have already collected data from six canines and we are looking for support for an additional three. With this new technology aimed as detection these types of insertional mutations, we will explore genetic variation across these genomes in search of more information about the genetic history of our canine companions.
This funding will allow us to learn more about the specific mutations that are associated with human-directed hyper-sociability behaviors in canines. These mutations are larger fragments of the chromosome that have inserted; as such, a special method for sequencing these larger insertions is needed. Bionano is a new technique that allows for us to sequence these types of mutations that occur across the genome in three samples (2 domestic dogs and 1 wolf). With funding, we will be able to add these genomes to our growing surveillance of similar mutations that likely served as the key foundation for dog domestication through selection of friendly individuals.
This project will be completed within 1 year of being funded. This will be a collaborative project with students in my group at Princeton University in New Jersey, USA. Half of this project has already been completed, but we need to collect more data to ensure statistical power for our genetic analysis.
Mar 01, 2018
Six samples sequenced with Bionano
Mar 14, 2018
Jun 01, 2018
Three additional samples sequenced with Bionano
Oct 01, 2018
Sequence data analysis
Dec 01, 2018
Meet the Team
This work is in collaboration with Dr. Monique Udell at OSU, Dr. Elaine Ostrander at NIH, Dr. Daniel Stahler at Yellowstone National Park, and Dr. Janet Sinsheimer at UCLA. We are extensively trained in molecular and behavioral sciences, and continue to publish frequently on related topics in canine evolution and genetics.
I am an Assistant Professor of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University investigating the molecular changes that occurred during the domestication of wolves into dogs, as well as uncovering the evolutionary history of North America’s canine species. This research has applications in biodiversity preservation and endangered species policy, and could shed light on the extent to which humanity can change the environment and the species they come into contact with.
Although I am actually a cat person, my career in canine genetics began during my Ph.D. at UCLA in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. I adopted my first dog in October 2016, Marla, the English Sheepdog. I've published on the genetics of wild and domestic canines. My work has been covered by exciting news outlets, such as The New York Times, Science Magazine, Science Daily and National Geographic.
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