The Dog. Man’s, woman’s, and small offspring’s best friend. Enemy of the feline, airborne plastic bags, and stairs. How did this happy devourer of scraps emerge from their ancestral predecessors to become the adorable face-licking creature we recognize today?
Featured Café Scientifique speaker, Dr. Adam Boyko of the Adam Boyko Laboratory at Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine, regaled us with canine data to rock your socks off. Truly. There was naught a single sock remaining by the end of the evening.* Dr. Boyko’s research focuses on genomic investigation of dogs as a model of genetic disease and evolutionary genetics. While the origin story remains unclear, Dr. Boyko believes his team’s genomic research strongly indicates that canine domestication first occurred with a Central Asian Wolf.
We now have an idea of where our furry friends came from, but how does it explain the diversity among canine breeds today? In comparing the genome of a diverse purebred population, Dr. Boyko’s research revealed genomic signatures for positive selection. As Dr. Boyko explains, you may find a breed that is less likely to drool, but usually this is the result of breeders having selected for the aesthetics of the jowl as opposed to the function or behavior of the dog. Similarly, his team found markers for a fear of stairs that coincides with the arrival of dogs that have shorter legs. This demonstrates how positive selection based on an aesthetic preference leads to a behavioral difference in the breeds.
So the next time Spot eagerly runs to greet you, remember the wolf that correctly chose an alliance with humans as a way to survive. And when he bares his teeth, think on the many generations it took to get to that silly, drool filled, genuinely happy smile of his. Evolution. It’s what made the wolf go from wanting to kill you to wanting to lick you.
To learn more about Dr. Boyko’s research and the Evolution of the Dog, click here for the podcast recorded by The Bell Museum of Natural History. Podcasts of Cafés are usually uploaded a few days to a week following the presentation. Interested in chatting with experts in their field? More information on the Bell Museum of Natural History and their Café Scientifique program can be found here.
Next up on the Café Scientifique dance card is “Mississippi: Myths and Meanings of the Big River” with Patrick Nunally from the University of Minnesota's River Life program on Tuesday, November 17th at the Bryant Lake Bowl.
*Editorial fiction. Though thoroughly impressed by the amount of data, socks remained firmly in place throughout the evening. After all, we are a [somewhat] civilized group of scholars.