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Why Use Dogs to Teach Genetics?

Dogs have been scientific research models for over a century, and part of many critical medical discoveries (such as the discovery of insulin.) It is not too surprising that scientists turned to dogs again to explore mammalian genetics. Work done in the last 20 years has shown that dogs share many gene-related disorders with people. Each breed is a closed reproductive population with distinct rates of heritable diseases, which dramatically increases the odds of finding disease-related loci.

In addition to their scientific value, dogs have several other benefits that genetics teachers will appreciate.

  • Like their scientific name Canis familiaris says, dogs are familiar. We share our homes, our daily lives, and 15,000+ years of history.
  • Traits like leg length, coat length and texture, muscle structure, and others can be scored easily from photos or direct observation.
  • The easily scored alleles have many inheritance patterns: autosomal dominant/recessive, sex-linked hemizygous, codominance, epistasis, gene dosage effects, pleiotropy, and allelic series.
  • Dogs are just as useful for advanced topics, like DNA regulation and mutation mechanisms, medical genomics, population genetics, phylogenetic reconstruction, and quantitative trait loci mapping.
  • Specific proteins and pathways have been identified that determine many of their distinctive physical features. Students can connect molecules directly to genotypes and phenotypes.
  • Class lessons are reinforced every time students walk by a purebred or pet a mixed terrier on campus.
  • Students can contribute their own photos of dogs to the curriculum. The stranger-looking a dog is, the more intriguing the challenge of unraveling its genotypes.

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Page last modified on Tuesday June 30, 2015 15:35:12 EDT