It's in the DNA: The Genetics of Dog Face Shape

Posted by TF Oren
two red dogs posing on a beach together

A recent study out of the University of Edinburgh's Roslin Institute has yielded new information about the genetics of skull formation in dogs.

Researchers analyzed DNA samples from 374 domestic dogs of various breeds, including pure breeds and mixed breeds. All of the dogs were patients at the Royal School of Veterinary Studies.

Each dog received a body scan, and that scan included a 3D image of its head. Researchers used these CT scans to take measurements of each dog's skull and the different shape of its face.

dog head

Then, the researchers compared the dogs' DNA samples with their skull measurements. This allowed them to hone in on DNA variations that underpin certain head shapes of various breeds.

For example, one of the variations the researchers found with different head types caused a disruption to the activity of the SMOC2 gene. This variation, according to researchers, is linked to face length. Dogs that had the mutation had flatter faces (brachycephaly) than dogs that didn't.

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The data from this dog face shape study has also shed light on the genetic underpinnings of human skull formation, including the causes of prenatal birth defects related to head development.

The mutation that affected the SMOC2 gene in the study's dogs, for instance, could help scientists develop diagnostic genetic screening techniques for babies born with brachycephaly. This is just one of the ways that veterinary science could be translated to medical advancement for humans.

english bulldog

This research is especially timely because of the growing popularity of flat-faced, brachycephalic dog breeds like Frenchies and English Bulldogs.

"Our results shed light on the molecular nature of this type of skull form that is so common and popular among dogs," says lead researcher Dr. Jeffrey Schoenebeck.

The study was published in Current Biology and you can check it out here.

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It's in the DNA: The Genetics of Dog Face Shape