People often say, “I didn’t rescue my dog, my dog rescued me.” Turns out there’s more to it than that.
The choice to adopt a furry family member is heavily influenced by a person’s genetic makeup, according to a new study published in Scientific Reports.
The goal was to discover how a person’s genes account for differences in their personality traits, a measure researchers call a “heritable component.”
The team of Swedish and British scientists studied 35,035 pairs of twins from the Swedish Twin Registry. Because identical twins share their entire genome, and non-identical twins on average share only half of the genetic variation, comparing the two groups help researchers learn more about the role genetics play in behavior and biology.
In this study, scientists found that identical twins own dogs 50 percent more of the time than non-identical twins. It suggests that genetics really do play a major role in canine companionship.
“[The results] demonstrate for the first time that genetics and environment play about equal roles in determining dog ownership,” says senior author Patrik Magnusson, a professor at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute.
He adds that the next step in the research will be to identify the actual genetic variants that affect the choice to own a dog or not, and how those variants relate to personality traits.
The findings will bring researchers one step closer to understanding just why dogs make our lives so much better — from helping sleep patterns and lowering the risk of allergies and asthma, to good, old-fashioned exercise benefits that come from dog walking, says co-author Carri Westgarth, a human-animal interaction lecturer at the University of Liverpool.
And, diving deeper into the DNA of dog-lovers could help scientists understand how, 15,000 years ago, dogs came to be domesticated in the first place, says co-author Keith Dobney, chair of Human Palaeoecology in the Department of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology at the University of Liverpool.
“Decades of archaeological research have helped us construct a better picture of where and when dogs entered into the human world,” Dobney, a zoo archaeologist, says, “but modern and ancient genetic data are now allowing us to directly explore why and how.”
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