Dogs are the most physically varied species on earth, having been selected for specific functions - you’ve surely heard the adage “form follows function.”
In a recent study, Dr. Elaine Ostrander and colleagues compared whole-genome sequence data between sport-hunting and terrier breeds, groups at the ends of a continuum in both form and function, as well as a number of other breeds of dogs (1). The goal of the study was to determine what genes might underlie functions that are important for athletic ability.
Results: 5 Genes/Gene Groups Involved in Performance and Behavior
A total of 59 genes were strongly selected for in sport-hunting breeds (spaniels, setters and pointers; retrievers were not examined). These
genes are responsible for muscle, cardiovascular and neurological functions
, which play such an important role in athleticism. They included the following (roles of the genes are in parentheses):
(skeletal muscle contraction)
(fatigue-enhanced muscle pain)
(vascular muscle contraction)
(heart rate and hypertension)
Sport-hunting dogs had a higher level of mutations in the genes
as compared to terriers. Mutations of these
genes are linked to sensory impairment
, and sport-hunting dogs are considered to be a less noise-sensitive group (because of the need to ignore gun shots) than terriers.
3. An examination of over 1000 agility dogs representing over 100 breeds showed that a specific allele of the
gene was associated with greater success in USDAA agility
encodes a brain protein that guides axons during development, and variations in this gene may result in variable cognitive plasticity. It may affect the ability to identify and acquire environmental information so that task-specific responses can be executed during the sport of agility.
4. An allele of
(which functions in vascular smooth muscle contraction)
was significantly associated with increased racing speed in Whippets
(but not Greyhounds), accounting for 11.6% of the total variance in racing performance.
5. The gene
, which previously had been shown to be
associated with furnishings
(mustache and eyebrows) was selected for in terriers, as were the
genes, which are involved in hyperactivity and panic responses
This study provides strong evidence that various breeds of dogs have been selected improved endurance, cardiac function, blood flow, and cognitive performance, which can affect athletic ability.
What relevance does this study have to you?
Well, this study suggests that if you are interested in success in athletic competition, you will tip the balance in your favor if you select your next teammate from lines of dogs that have been bred specifically for success in those competitions.
As we learn more about the genetics of dogs, will we eventually identify “the champion genome?”
(Full articles available
1. Jaemin Kim, Falina J. Williams, Dayna L. Dreger, Jocelyn Plassais, Brian W. Davis, Heidi G. Parker, and Elaine A. Ostrander. Genetic selection of athletic success in sport-hunting dogs. PNAS 2018; 115 (30) E7212-E7221