Monday, June 11, 2007

It's all in da gene: muscles II

"Horses ain't like people, man, they can't make themselves better than they're born. See, with a horse, it's all in the gene. It's the fucking gene that does the running. The horse has got absolutely nothing to do with it." --- Paulie (Eric Roberts) in The Pope of Greenwich Village.

The Times has a nice article on the myostatin mutation in dogs, which leads to increased speed (one copy of mutant gene) and muscle mass ("bully whippet", with two copies). In the picture below, the bully whippet is on the right.

We discussed this in an earlier post, including data on the frequency of the human myostatin mutation in different population groups. Two copies of a myostatin mutation in humans can lead to super babies. (40% more muscle mass than an ordinary kid -- one baby could do the iron cross at 5 months old!)

...Free of most of the ethical concerns — and practical difficulties — associated with the practice of eugenics in humans, dog breeders are seizing on new genetic research to exert dominion over the canine gene pool. Companies with names like Vetgen and Healthgene have begun offering dozens of DNA tests to tailor the way dogs look, improve their health and, perhaps soon, enhance their athletic performance.

...“We’re on the verge of a real radical shift in the way we apply genetics in our society,” said Mark Neff, associate director of the veterinary genetics laboratory at the University of California, Davis. “It’s better to be first confronted with some of these issues when they concern our pets than when they concern us.”

...A mutation similar to the one that makes some whippets faster also exists in humans: a sliver of genetic code that regulates muscle development, is missing.

“It would be extremely interesting to do tests on the track finalists at the Olympics,” said Elaine Ostrander, the scientist at the National Institutes of Health who discovered that the fastest whippets had a single defective copy of the myostatin gene, while “bullies” had two.

“But we wouldn’t know what to do with the information,” Ms. Ostrander said. “Are we going to segregate the athletes who have the mutation to run separately?” For the moment, it is whippet owners who find themselves on the edge of that particular bioethical frontier.

It was not exactly news to breeders that speed is an inherited trait: whippets were developed in the late 1800s specifically for racing. But knowing that one of her dogs was sired by a carrier of the gene, said Jen Jensen, a whippet owner in Fair Oaks, Calif., makes its championships seem “less earned.” Ms. Jensen’s suggestion that a DNA test be required for all dogs and that the fastest ones without the mutation be judged and raced separately, however, has not gone over well.

At a recent race here in southern New Jersey, some whippet owners wanted the mutation eliminated altogether, even if that meant fewer fast dogs. But as the dogs pounded after a lure at 35 miles per hour, several owners allowed that they would prefer a whippet with the gene for speed.

“It’s more fun having fast dogs than slow dogs,” said Libby Kirchner, of Glassboro, N.J.


Anonymous said...

Nice article, I"m going to read the Times article and search for more information.


Anonymous said...

This wippet is amazing. I have seen a bunch of other images of this dog that will freak you out. She looks sweet in the face, but the double muscle is!

David Coughlin said...

I live ten miles from Glassboro. I have never heard of dog races around here.

Blog Archive