WEDNESDAY, Aug. 15 (HealthDay News) -- Dogs may soon become man's best friend on a level that goes far beyond companionship and loyalty.
Researchers report that the canine genome, similar in many ways to the human one, is starting to shed light on a wide range of human diseases.
What makes dogs particularly interesting to scientists is their breed structure -- a type of artificial selection -- which creates distinct and diverse lines of animals that range from the muscular German shepherd to the nervous Chihuahua, from the hard-working collie to the perpetually pampered poodle.
According to a review article published Aug. 16 in the New England Journal of Medicine, the fact that most purebred dogs have descended from small, closely related parentage with large litters means recessive diseases are common among them.
To those interested in genetics, that's exciting.
It makes less common recessive diseases (which can't be seen or expressed unless the responsible gene is carried by both parents) more prevalent in these animals. And that opens the window to understanding the genetic underpinnings of a wide range of conditions that humans and dogs share.
"The dog genome is very similar to humans," said review author Elaine Ostrander, chief of the Cancer Genetics Branch of the National Human Genome Research Institute at the U.S. National Institutes of Health. "It's closer to us than the genomes of mice, rats or fruit flies, which are often used in research. Dogs also live side-by-side in our environments with us; they drink the same water, they breathe the same air, they're exposed to the same pesticides and they often even eat some of the same food."
Ostrander said dogs and humans get almost all of the same diseases, including cancer, arthritis, epilepsy, retinal atrophy, autoimmune disorders such as lupus, and psychological problems such as o
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