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Darwin’s Dogs wants your dog’s DNA

Project seeks to understand genes that govern canine behavior

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8:00am, August 21, 2016
puppies

DNA DONATIONS  To learn how genes affect behavior, researchers are asking pet owners to send in their dogs’ DNA and answer questions about behavior, including whether a dog tilts its head or crosses its paws.

Going for walks, playing fetch and now participating in genetic research are just a few things people and their dogs can do together.

Darwin’s Dogs, a citizen science project headquartered at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, is looking for good — and bad — dogs to donate DNA. The project aims to uncover genes that govern behavior, including those involved in mental illness in both people and pets.

Looking to dogs for clues about mental illness isn’t as strange as it may seem. Certain breeds are plagued by some of the same diseases and mental health issues that afflict people. Researchers have learned about the genetics of narcolepsy and obsessive compulsive disorder, as well as cancer, blindness and many other ailments from studying purebred dogs. Studies of purebreds are mainly useful when the problem is caused by mutations in a single gene. But most behaviors are the product of interactions between many genes and the

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