Tuesday, June 12, 2007

"Bettering" the breeds?

There's a great article in today's New York Times about how dog breeders are having a field day with genetic research that promises to allow them to fine-tune their dogs' traits: As Breeders Test DNA, Dogs Become Guinea Pigs. Quite frankly, I'm terrified. True, advances in DNA screening may allow breeders to decrease the incidence of crippling and fatal genetic disorders in their lines ... never mind that such problems are, as writer Mark Derr points out in the article, of the breeders' own making. (Derr is the author of the excellent book Dog's Best Friend: Annals of the Dog-human Relationship.) But already people in "the fancy" are using the tests to refine their selection for superficial traits that do nothing but win them rosettes and higher puppy prices:
Mary-Jo Winters, a poodle breeder, uses a DNA coat-color test to ensure there are no genes for brown fur lurking beneath her black-and-cream-colored dogs.

“I don’t want brown,” said Ms. Winters. “It’s not my thing.”
So boneheaded breeders following their "fancy" now have a new tool for eliminating even more diversity from already threatened breed gene pools. This is frightening for the future of dogs in an era when the gene pools of many "pure" breeds have been so dangerously narrowed by selection for superficial traits that finding non-carriers of genetic faults is quite difficult (and getting the AKC to allow the infusion of new genes even more so).

I've already gone on a previous little diatribe about the ills of breeding dogs for their looks, so I won't belabor the point further. Well, OK, yeah I probably will in some future post, the next time the topic shows up on my radar ...

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