As fans of the famous Westminster Dog Show will attest, dogs come in all shapes and sizes. The most thorough DNA analysis yet of purebred dogs suggests that canine breeds, typically defined by physical features and family history, can also be discerned genetically with great accuracy.
"At a DNA level, breeds are a very real concept. Every poodle is more closely related to a poodle than it is to a dog of any other breed," says Elaine Ostrander of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. In the May 21 Science, she and her colleagues describe their analysis of DNA from 85 dog breeds.
The new study is the latest spin-off from efforts to use man's best friend to investigate human health. Over the past few centuries, dog owners have created hundreds of breeds with strikingly different temperaments and physical characteristics.