Novel Genomic Research with a Little Help From Village Dogs...
My laboratory is focused on genomic investigation of dogs as a model of genetic disease and evolutionary genetics. In particular we are interested in understanding how the forces of natural and artificial selection have shaped the domestic dog genome and the genetic architecture underlying the tremendous diversity we see in dogs today.
One focus of my lab is understanding the evolution and genetics of village dogs, the semi-feral pariah dogs found in much of the world today. Unlike purebred dogs, village dogs are not selectively bred and are more likely to resemble early domesticated dogs in behavior, morphology and genetics. In Africa and elsewhere, most village and street dogs are not recent admixtures of modern breeds but rather represent local populations that evolved for thousands of generations.
An exception occurs in the Americas, where most dogs seem to descend from European and not ancient Native American breeds. In an ongoing study funded by National Geographic, we are seeking out remote populations of New World dogs in an effort to track down modern-day descendants of these earlier American dog populations.
Village dogs are also useful for understanding the genetic architecture underlying complex traits. In humans, traits like body size are governed by hundreds of genes, each with a small phenotypic effect. In purebred dogs, body size is governed by a handful of loci, each with very large effects, enabling efficient detection of the underlying variants and accurate prediction of phenotype from genetic data. Understanding the genetic basis of traits like body size in village dogs is key for understanding how natural and artificial selection act to shape the genetic architecture of these traits and has implications for our understanding of complex disease in dogs, humans and other species. Working closely with veterinary researchers at Cornell and elsewhere, we develop and apply cutting-edge bioinformatic methods to enable efficient detection of important traits in village and purebred dogs.
- Adam Boyko