May 07, 2016
Many Labrador Retrievers Have Hunger Boosting Mutation

Labs are fat because they've got genes for perpetual hunger.

Starting with an initial cohort of 15 obese and 18 lean Labrador retrievers, Raffan and her colleagues selected three obesity-related genes to examine, all of which were known to affect weight in humans. This first analysis turned up a variation in a gene called POMC. In more of the obese dogs, a section of DNA was scrambled at the end of the gene. The deletion is predicted to hinder a dog's ability to produce the neuropeptides β-MSH and β-Endorphin, which are usually involved in switching off hunger after a meal.

POMC isn't the only gene contributing to canine obesity. Others are still waiting to be discovered.

In a larger sample of 310 Labrador retrievers, Raffan and her colleagues discovered a host of canine behaviors associated with the POMC deletion. Not all Labs with the DNA variation were obese (and some were obese without having the mutation), but in general the deletion was associated with greater weight and, according to an owner survey, affected dogs were more food-motivated--they begged their owners for food more frequently, paid more attention at mealtimes, and scavenged for scraps more often. On average, the POMC deletion was associated with a 2 kg weight increase.

Use of food to train assistance dogs selects for assistance dogs that are perpetually hungry. Seems like a problem.

Notably, the POMC deletion was markedly more common in the 81 assistance Labrador retrievers included in the study, occurring in 76 percent of these dogs. "We had no initial reason to believe that the assistance dogs would be a different cohort," says Raffan. "It was surprising. It's possible that these dogs are more food-motivated and therefore more likely to be selected for assistance-dog breeding programs, which historically train using food rewards."

Once all the obesity-boosting genetic variants become known and genetic editing technology matures some people will do genetic engineering to produce puppies without these genes. I also expect lots of genetic load (purely harmful) mutations to be weeded out. A dog 30 years from now will be vastly genetically superior to a dog today.

I am concerned about genetic improvements to cats more than to dogs. Humans have moved cats all over the world and this has made cats into predators in numerous areas where they did not use to exist. Domestic cats much more heavily breed with wild cats. So genetic improvements to domestic cats will leak out into wild cats, making them far more capable of killing birds and other wildlife globally.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2016 May 07 10:38 AM 

Bob sykes said at May 7, 2016 1:51 PM:

The great majority of house cats only hunt the first few years of their lives, because hunting is hard, and they are well fed. House cats typically live about 15 years, and the last ten or so they are content to watch prey.

On the other hand, a 15 year old cat will actively defend its yard against stray cats.

Fifty year of cat ownership. Divide the scare stories by about 10,000.

JP Straley said at May 7, 2016 1:55 PM:

Very interesting post.

But there's a problem, that in training you always use a food reward. I use the clicker to tell my dog it's done what's wanted (they get confused, clickers eliminate that), and they get a food reward for the click.

Even willful dogs can be trained thus. A reward of petting and attention doesn't work nearly as well as food. I use a single piece of "kibble", it's food after all, and dogs just aren't that picky. If you use an exciting food like cheese they get too excited and don't pay attention to the lesson. Dogs! Geez!

Your comment about cats truly on the mark. Feral cats are definitely bad news. I was at Cinque Terra in Italy (part of it is a national park) and there were loads of ferals. The locals feed/care for them. Bird populations really suffer.

On the other hand, I'm an amateur SF writer, and the "juiced" cat sometimes slips into a story. Could be a good friend, ya know.

Brett Bellmore said at May 8, 2016 6:13 AM:

As for cats, you could genetically engineer them to be sterile unless fed some special diet. That would nicely solve the problem.

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