Monday, December 01, 2003
A dog genome? I'd know ‘em anywhere
By Dave Jaffe
Dogs, it seems, are more genetically similar to humans than had been thought. Fine by me. Let them buy their own damn dog food.
In yet another study undertaken primarily to annoy me, scientists at The Institute for Genomic Research, or TIGR as they prefer it printed on their softball jerseys, found that 75 percent of canine genes have equivalents in the human body.
The data are derived from a limited scan of one dog's genome or DNA sequences. DNA sequences, for you lay persons, are those essential building blocks of life that got O.J. off the hook.
My wife, a dog lover, greeted this news with the enthusiasm of someone who flunked high school biology.
"You see, Dave. Dogs are just like us. Aren't 'chu, baby? Aren't 'chu? Yes you are. Yes you Are! YES you ARE!"
"Hon, if you'll put him down, scrub your hands, then hand me the news article, I'll explain why this doesn't mean that dogs are just like us. Oh, no you're not. No you're not, you big baby! No You Are NOT!"
As I explained to my wife using my most condescending voice, the study compared the genetic makeup of dogs to that of humans and rodents and found that canines share more genes with us than with the rodents, which is probably an insult to one of the species. Maybe all three.
Originally, prehistoric dogs and prehistoric humans were quite dissimilar, genetically speaking, but grew closer over the eons as dogs ate more of us.
Today even the casual observer would note the striking similarities between the "family dog" and its owners, as well as between the "family dog" and, say, a "heap of dirty laundry."
This 75 percent genetic crossover-and I think it's more like 82 percent-might explain that, while dogs may not be smarter than people, they are smarter than me.
Let us consider, for example, the household's sleeping arrangements.
Folklore has long portrayed the family dog as a devoted guardian of the home and hearth, which, if you don't have a fireplace, is that rusted iron log-holder thingy.
I don't know why dogs bother protecting the hearth. Maybe they're guarding the logs, which would make more sense. Anyway, folklore is a big, fat, stupid liar.
Dog courage is little more than a myth generated by the canine species' well-funded and politically connected public relations machine. Like humans, dogs are afraid of everything, especially at night in the dark, which is how they end up sleeping on our beds.
FAMILY DOG: "Grrrrr…(Hey, did you hear that?)"
HUSBAND: "Hmmf…wha? What is it, boy?"
FAMILY DOG: "Grrrr…(It sounded like me growling.)"
WIFE: "What's wrong?"
HUSBAND: "I don't know. Snookies heard something."
FAMILY DOG: "(I did?)"
HUSBAND: "It's probably nothing. Snookies, go back in the hallway and lie down. Go!"
WIFE : "What if it's a burglar?"
FAMILY DOG: "(What if it's a rodent?)"
HUSBAND: "If it were a burglar, Snookies would attack."
FAMILY DOG: "(Unless he's a rodent.)"
WIFE: "Would you go check?"
HUSBAND: "Me? What about you or Snookies?"
WIFE: "He'll stay and protect me."
SNOOKIES: "(She'll stay and protect me!)"
HUSBAND: "All right, but when I get back I'm tossing his furry little genome right off this bed."
Of course, that won't happen. Once a dog has slept on your bed he then brings to bear the full force of his 75 percent genetic crossover-and now I'm thinking it's way more, like maybe 91 or 93 percent-to stay right there.
Feffer, our late model dog, was allowed to sleep on our bed before I understood that I had anything to say about it. But he was a polite dog and his DNA warned him to sleep on my wife's side, so we never tangled.
My wife is perfectly happy with the arrangement-she, asleep on her side, Feffer quietly curled next to her pillow, his genome in her face.
The problem is Oxford, our 10-speed full-suspension Italian racing dog. He's always terribly excited to be anywhere doing anything, which is wonderfully social dog behavior, unless it occurs on my side of the bed.
My wife had trained him to sleep on her side, but lately he's been listening to some bad advice from Feffer.
Also, Oxford apparently has no bones and prefers to drape his long 20-pound frame across my ankles, which although flattering, makes me dream about Alien face-huggers working their way up.
"Son," I told Brian, my teenager, "I'm inviting Oxford to your room for a sleepover. Shift your feet every few hours to prevent gangrene and you'll do fine."
But a few hours later Brian woke me complaining that Oxford was insisting I readmit him. "He keeps running into the hall and my feet are too numb to chase him."
"Son, we are his genetic superiors. We have thumbs. We have can openers. We're in charge."
"Maybe so, Dad, but watch where you step out here. Oxford left you a little pile of genome to clean up."
Dave Jaffe lives with his wife, two teenage sons and two dogs. Reach him at email@example.com.