Are you one of those individuals who looks at a canine and go weak at the knees because all you want to do is pet it? If so, then the chances are that your genes are more at play then your personality. Surprising, right? But it’s the truth!
All of your life, you must have thought that being a dog lover is your choice, but as it turns out, it’s not. Your love for canines comes from your genetic makeup, or at least some part of it if not all. A study conducted in Sweden suggests that dog lovers are genetically inclined to dote over canines.
Dogs have been a part of human civilization for quite some time now. Nobody knows when and how dogs got promoted to being a companion to humans from being just an animal. But scientists are studying the dog-human interaction throughout history and modern times to uncover every detail about said relationship. And their endeavors have now led to the discovery of a significant factor responsible for creating kinship between a man and a dog, which is the human genes.
A team of Swedish and British scientists studied the influence of genetics over the ownership of dogs by analyzing the genetic makeup of 35,035 twins. Researchers found that if one-half of identical twins owns a dog, the chances are that the other half will also own one. However, in the case of non-identical (fraternal) twins, if one half has a dog, then the probability of the other half owning one is much less. The difference in the rate of concordance in dog ownership between identical and fraternal twins exists due to the high value of similarity in the gene makeup within a pair of the former than the latter. That is identical twins have the same gene traits entirely while fraternal twins share only half their genome. Therefore, by analyzing the data from both types of twins, scientists can study the impact of environment and genetics over human behavior more clearly.
Twin studies are an excellent way to understand the extent of influence genes have over individuals in similar and dissimilar environments. If two twins are exposed to different surroundings, but they have the same disposition, then the chances are that their DNA has a much stronger influence over their behavior then the environment. Hence, whenever scientists have to definitively link back a human trait to nature or nurture, they use twin studies as those get clear answers.
So, to get answers about the heritability of dog ownership, the European team of experts used copious gene data of twins born between 1926 and 1996. The study revealed that 51% of dog ownership in men comes from genetics, whereas in women, 57% of dog ownership is because of genes.
While commenting on the study’s results, Tove Fall, the lead author of the study and professor of molecular epidemiology at Uppsala University, said that ‘he was surprised to see that a person’s genetic makeup appears to be a significant influence in whether they own a dog.’
He also stated, ‘As such, these findings have major implications in several different fields related to understanding dog-human interaction throughout history and modern times.’
Cari Westgarth, the coauthor of the study and a professor in human-animal interaction at the University of Liverpool in the United Kingdom, believes that the findings of the study are significant because,
‘they suggest that supposed health benefits of owning a dog reported in some studies may be partly explained by different genetics of the people studied.’
Many studies in the past have discussed the possibility of improved health in people with dogs, such as the study that linked dog ownership with improved heart health. In 2017 experts found that owning a dog reduces the risk of heart disease in people by providing emotional support and more opportunities for physical movement. But with the new study, scientists now believe that the health benefits of owning a dog are also linked with an owner’s genetics, as mentioned by Cari Westgarth.
How did this study come about?
Prior studies had shown that exposure to dogs at a young age was responsible for instilling a propensity for canines in people. But experts wanted to find out how much of a role do genes play in building relations between a dog and a human. And so, Uppsala University professors, along with some British professors, carried out a study to understand the relationship between dog ownership and a person’s genetic makeup.
Dogs have been a part of the human world for more than 15000 years and are supposedly the first animal that was ever domesticated. In today’s world, dogs are a significant part of human households and are even responsible for improving the health of their owners. Considering the ever strong connection between canines and humans, experts at Uppsala University put together a team to dissect that connection. According to the press release published at the University’s website, the goal of the study was to see ‘if dog ownership has a heritable component.’
Even though the study has been successful in revealing the relationship between a person’s love for dogs and their DNA, but it hasn’t figured out what part of the human DNA is responsible for the said relationship. Hence, more research is required to uncover the specific genes that bring canines and humans close. Discussing shortcomings of the study and the way forward Park Magnussen, senior author of the study and Associate Professor in Epidemiology at the Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Karolinska Institutet, Sweden, said,
‘These kind of twin studies cannot tell us exactly which genes are involved, but at least demonstrate for the first time that genetics and environment play about equal roles in determining dog ownership. The next obvious step is to try to identify which genetic variants affect this choice and how they relate to personality traits and other factors such as allergy.’
Although experts believe that they still have a lot to discover when it comes to human-dog interaction, for now, they are content with their findings. And as for us, dog lovers, we can find comfort in the fact that we are programmed to love canines, so that’s never going to change!
by Bobby J Davidson || You can’t buy love, but you can rescue it™ .
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