For those new around here, my day job is at a University working on genetic sequencing projects. Part of my daily TODO at work is to keep up on scientific literature, which is a tall task considering how many journals, subjects and specialities, and just sheer volume of data is being published right now. In order to stay on the cutting edge of science, one must read, and read a lot. I think one of the best pieces of advice I can give to a younger student or someone just getting interested in science, is to spend an hour or so a day looking for new publications in whatever field interests you.

Anyway, I came across one of the best scientific breakthroughs of our generation, or at least for dog lovers. The long sought-after question of “How do dogs get their curly tail?” now has an answer. It’s in their DNA (duh!). Genetics, crazy.

The article published in PLOS Genetics did large scale sequencing project (why this is relevant to me at work) on 100 dogs, from 21 breeds. The results were immense, resulting in 12.4 million data points (called single-nucleotide polymporphisms or SNPs for short). That is quite a lot of data to sift through. My favorite part of the paper though, has to be the figures.

In more serious-analysis, it is actually super fascinating because the paper showed that there is “a common origin of all screw tail breeds (Bulldogs, French Bulldogs and Boston Terriers) and shows the bifurcation [split or divergence] from Boxer dogs and Pugs, the other two brachycephalic breeds”. They found a mutation in the DVL2 gene, Dishevelled 2, which was the predominant cause for this phenotype. This is actually pretty interesting because it has a link to human disease as well. A mutation in a close homolog (think of it as a close relative) gene in humans cause Robinow syndrome, which results in limb and vertebrate malfunctions. Studies like this, which discover and reaffirm the genetic cause of disease, could some day lead to a cure, especially with gene-editing becoming more and more reliable.

For all you animal lovers — don’t worry, no doggo was harmed in the making of this paper. They collected a cheek swab and a little bit of blood for processing. Science. It’s great isn’t it?