A dog DNA startup company called Embark, based out of Boston, Massachusetts, and Ithaca, New York, appears to have finally solved the mystery as to why huskies sport their beautiful blue eyes. The study is the first consumer genomics study ever conducted in a non-human model, as well as the largest canine genome-wide association study to date, reports Phys.org.
The key, it turns out, lies in the dogs’ 18th chromosome. A duplication on chromosome 18, near the ALX4 gene, was found to be strongly associated with blue eye color. The ALX4 gene plays an important role in mammalian eye development, so this association is not entirely out of left field. And interestingly, the study also found this same genetic quirk in non-merle Australian shepherds, which also tend to have blue eyes.
This flies in the face of how eye color is usually thought to be determined in dogs. For instance, two genetic variants are known to underlie blue eye color in many dogs, but scientists have long known that these variants do not explain the blue eyes of huskies, thus the mystery.
In fact, even though we’re seemingly in a genomic scientific age, the genetic underpinnings of many traits in non-human animals are still largely unknown, even for humans’ best friends. Embark aims to change that.
For the study, which was performed in partnership with Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, researchers used a diverse panel of 6,070 genetically tested dogs, with owners who contributed phenotype data — physical traits of the dogs — via web-based surveys and photo uploads. A comprehensive, consumer-driven survey of this size is largely unprecedented.
“Using genetic data from the pets of our customers, combined with eye colors reported by customers for those same animals, we have discovered a genetic duplication that is strongly associated with blue eye color. This study demonstrates the power of the approach that Embark is taking towards improving canine health,” explained Aaron J. Sams of Embark. “In a single year, we collected enough data to conduct the largest canine study of its kind. Embark is currently pursuing similar research projects in a range of morphological and health-related traits and we hope to continue to use our platform to move canine genetics and health forward in a very real way.”
It’s all in the name of improved health care options for our canine companions, as well as helping curious human owners better understand the origins of their pets. Answering why huskies have blue eyes is just the first such mystery they hope to solve.
I have written for years that a runaway Antarctica was certain, with half the icy continent melting rather spectacularly on an horizon of two centuries at most, and probably much less than that. This rested on the fact that half of Antarctica rests on nothing but bedrock at the bottom of the sea. At the bottom of what should naturally be the sea, in the present circumstances of significant greenhouse gas concentrations.
But Lady Luck comes into view and we have this: (Courtesy of Mother Nature Network.)
Global warming is making Antarctica green again, and it’s stunning
At current rates, it’s not crazy to think that the Antarctic peninsula could eventually become forested again.
When you think of Antarctica, you probably imagine a frigid, windswept, icy, inhospitable domain; the whitest, most barren canvas on Earth. That’s pretty much the way the Southern continent has been for at least the last 3 million years, since the last time atmospheric carbon dioxide levels approached their current levels. But times, they are a-changing.
The effects of global warming are beginning to radically alter the Antarctic landscape in some surprising ways. Scientists say it’s like looking back in time, to an epoch when this bleached terrain was actually green. Mossy mats are rapidly spreading across the thawed, exposed soils at unprecedented rates, transforming the land from a place of desolation, to a place of viridescence.
At the very least, we’re getting a peek at Antarctica’s future, which like its past was green and filled with plant-life, reports the Washington Post.
“This is another indicator that Antarctica is moving backward in geologic time — which makes sense, considering atmospheric CO2 levels have already risen to levels that the planet hasn’t seen since the Pliocene, 3 million years ago, when the Antarctic ice sheet was smaller, and sea-levels were higher,” said Rob DeConto, a glaciologist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
“If greenhouse gas emissions continue unchecked, Antarctica will head even further back in geologic time… perhaps the peninsula will even become forested again someday, like it was during the greenhouse climates of the Cretaceous and Eocene, when the continent was ice free.”
So far, the greening of Antarctica is mostly limited to the peninsula, where two different species of mosses are fanning out at a startling clip, at four to five times the rate seen just a few decades ago. They gain a footing in the summers, when the frozen ground thaws, then freeze back over in the winter. But these layers-upon-layers are thickening, generating an increasingly detailed record of Antarctica’s warming climate.
It’s perhaps only a matter of time before grasses, bushes, perhaps even trees begin to sprout. As beautiful as a forested Antarctica might be to imagine, it’s important to remember that this isn’t necessarily a good thing. Climate change is an ambiguous beast; Antarctica might be getting greener, but deserts elsewhere in the world are expanding, sea levels are rising, and weather is becoming more severe.
“These changes, combined with increased ice-free land areas from glacier retreat, will drive large-scale alteration to the biological functioning, appearance, and landscape of the [Antarctic peninsula] over the rest of the 21st century and beyond,” wrote the authors of the study, which was published in the journal Current Biology.
Lead author Matthew Amesbury added: “Even these relatively remote ecosystems, that people might think are relatively untouched by human kind, are showing the effects of human induced climate change.”
Sorry to drag out this old saw of mine, but it is so perfect: “I can predict anything except those things that involve the future”!
Because I am still staying with the Lady Luck theme but this time going from the vastness of the Southern polar regions to something a little closer to home. (Again, seen on Mother Nature Network.)
Pit bull on ‘death row’ at shelter gets new life as police dog
Leonard recently became Ohio’s first ever pit bull K-9. Jenn Savedge May 19, 2017
When Leonard, a stout young pit bull, arrived on the doorstep of the Union County Humane Society in Ohio a few months ago, the staff had little hope for his prospects of being adopted. Leonard was deemed “aggressive,” and that meant he was more likely to be euthanized than sent home with a new family. But Jim Alloway, the center director, saw something different in the dog. And thanks to his observation, Leonard has a future that includes work, play and lots of belly rubs.
As luck would have it, Alloway has an extensive background of working with police dogs. He realized Leonard’s aggression was really a very strong desire to play. Whenever someone was holding something, Leonard wanted it and would try to grab it. As a pet in the average family, this may not be a desirable trait. But this strong “prey drive” made him a great candidate for training as a police dog.
So Alloway called Storm Dog K-9 training. After an initial round of testing, Mike Pennington, the owner of the training facility, agreed to take Leonard on and train him to sniff out narcotics. (Leonard wasn’t a good candidate for tracking and catching suspects because he loves people way too much.)
Before his training with Pennington, Leonard didn’t even know basic commands. But after a few weeks of hard work — which his trainers said he absolutely loved — Leonard was fully certified as a police dog, becoming Ohio’s first pit bull K-9 officer.
Leonard was paired with Terry Mitchell, Clay Township’s Chief of Police. Mitchell told the local ABC affiliate that he was unsure at first about the idea of using a pit bull as a K-9. But the pair bonded immediately.
“I scheduled a time to come down and see him, and after about 10 minutes, I knew this was the dog for us,” Mitchell said.
Leonard officially started work with the force this week. When he has his police vest on, Mitchell says the pup is all business and ready to tackle his narcotics-sniffing job. Off-duty though, Leonard is just a sweet, playful pup, hopping on Mitchell’s lap for evening naps. Oh, and according to Mitchell, he snores horribly.
Leonard — and Mitchell — couldn’t be happier.
Wonder how long it will be before we have happy ex-rescue dogs frolicking through the forests of Antarctica!!