JUL 10, 2019 7:30 AM PDT

The Genetic Reasons for Human-Dog Companionship

WRITTEN BY: Annie Lennon

The companionship between dogs and humans is like no other. Known as ‘man’s best friend’, countless researchers have tried to unravel the reasons behind this uncanny connection. With traditional explanations attributable to socialization and selective breeding over time, there is also a genetic basis for the connection. 

From sequencing a region of chromosome 6 in dogs, researchers found multiple sections of canine DNA linked to social behavior (vonHoldt: 2017). Significantly, they found unique genetic insertions known as transposons on the Williams-Beuren syndrome critical region (WBSCR) that were strongly linked to a tendency to seek out humans for physical contact, help and information (Makhijani: 2017). 

Also present in humans, genes in the WBSCR are known to have a significant influence on human behavior as well. However, unlike in dogs, it is the deletion of certain genes in this region that causes Williams-Beuren syndrome, a congenital condition characterized by being extroverted, outgoing and sociable (Rogers: 2017). 

The remarkable similarities in behavioral outputs from differences occurring in the WBSCR between these socially-inclined humans and those of domesticated dogs suggests that there are similarities between the genetic architecture of humans and dogs in forming social connections (Princeton University: 2017). They also may give an indication as to how wolves became domesticated. 

To this end, the researchers compared the behavior and genomes of 18 domesticated dogs to those of 10 captive human-socialized wolves. As they had predicted, on average, the domesticated dogs displayed more sociable behavior towards humans than the wolves. On an individual basis however, some wolves were more sociable with humans in comparison to some dogs who were more aloof. However, when looking at the animals’ genomes, they found a higher correlation between the presence of certain transposons on the WBSCR and the friendliness of each animal, regardless of whether a dog or wolf (Rogers: 2017). 

This means that, unlike previous findings that suggested the root of human-dog companionship to be in wolves’ abilities to identify gestures and voice, it may be that the first wolves who ventured to early settlements were instead selected for their tendency to seek human companionship. 

Wolves with the highest genetic propensity towards this were then likely bred amongst each other, allowing the impact of these genes to become exaggerated. As the impact of these genes increased, so did their expression of human-like emotions. Of course, without a verbal language, developing mutually understandable facial and emotional cues would have also been key to mutual understanding and cooperation between humans and dogs. 

For example, it has been suggested that originally, dogs tended to accept food from people whose faces were visible as opposed to those blindfolded so they would have been best able to understand the intentions behind the food they were receiving (Nagasawa: 2009). Likewise, given the special importance of visual cues for human bonding, over time dogs seem to have developed the ability to both understand and communicate by gaze. In fact, just as in humans, studies have found that certain eye contact between humans and dogs, although not wolves, increases both parties’ oxytocin levels, a hormone known to increase bonding (Diep: 2015). 

To conclude, it seems that one of the key reasons for the strong relationship between humans and dogs lies in early dogs’ and wolves’ genetic inclination towards bonding with humans. The more this was exercised and deemed beneficial by both these early dogs, the more they adapted to become more intune with human communication methods to become the dogs we know today. 

 

Sources 

 

voHoldt, Bridgett M.: Science Advances

Makhijani, Pooja: Princeton University 

Rogers, Nala: Inside Science 

Princeton University, Science Daily 

Nagasawa, Miho et al. : Japanese Psychological Research 

Diep, Francie: Pacific Standard 

About the Author
  • Science writer with keen interests in technology and behavioral biology. Her current focus is on the interplay between these fields to create meaningful interactions, applications and environments.
You May Also Like
OCT 12, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
The Malaria Parasite Can Change Host Cell Genetics
OCT 12, 2020
The Malaria Parasite Can Change Host Cell Genetics
Mosquitoes can transmit the malaria-causing Plasmodium parasite to humans. Malaria was estimated to have caused the deat ...
OCT 14, 2020
Neuroscience
Researchers Pinpoint Neurons Affected by Epilepsy
OCT 14, 2020
Researchers Pinpoint Neurons Affected by Epilepsy
Video: Explains in more detail the different receptors affected by epilepsy. Researchers at the University of Copenhagen ...
NOV 14, 2020
Cannabis Sciences
New Genetic Test Identifies Cannabis THC Levels from Seeds
NOV 14, 2020
New Genetic Test Identifies Cannabis THC Levels from Seeds
Researchers from the University of Minnesota have developed a genetic test that can predict how much cannabidiol (CBD) o ...
NOV 22, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
What is ChIP-Seq and Is It Quantitative After All?
NOV 22, 2020
What is ChIP-Seq and Is It Quantitative After All?
ChIP-Seq is a tool for analyzing the interactions between DNA and the proteins that bind to it, which influences gene ac ...
DEC 09, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
Weed-Killer Causes Epigenetic Changes That May Predict Disease Risk
DEC 09, 2020
Weed-Killer Causes Epigenetic Changes That May Predict Disease Risk
Glyphosate is a common weed-killing chemical used in agriculture, and it may be best known as the active ingredient in R ...
JAN 01, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
Common Brain Disorder Has a Genetic Influence
JAN 01, 2021
Common Brain Disorder Has a Genetic Influence
It's thought that as many as one in one hundred people are born with a brain disorder known as Chiari 1 malformation, bu ...
Loading Comments...