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Researchers Identify Gene That Plays Key Role in Size of Dogs -- and Probably in Humans

The results suggest that IGF1 plays a similar role in differentiating small from large dogs within breeds, small from large breeds within dogs, and likely size differences among species.

Cornell's role in the research was in part to show the statistical significance of the pattern of variation found near the IGF1 gene and to demonstrate that selection by humans likely was responsible for the differences in IGF1 between small and large dog breeds using a sample of more than 3,000 dogs from 143 breeds.

"It is staggering to think that so many of the small dog breeds came about through selection on the same mutation in the same gene. These results suggest that while there are invariably differences among breeds (even in genes for size), IGF1 has played an important role in the evolution of many small breeds by being a gene that consistently affects body size," said Bustamante. "The research points to the utility of the domestic dog model system to identify genes that have a large effect."

Because small dog breeds are only distantly related to each other, the researchers believe the gene variation for small dogs probably first appeared early in the history of dogs. As a result of selective breeding of dogs by humans over many generations, dogs today exhibit the greatest diversity in body size of any mammal.

The study's lead author was Nathan Sutter and senior author Elaine A. Ostrander, both of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), part of the National Institutes of Health. The study included close collaboration between NHGRI, Cornell, University of Southern California, University of Utah in Salt Lake City, University of California-Los Angeles, University of Missouri in Columbia, the Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition in Leicestershire, England, and the Nestle Research Center in St. Louis.

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