Discovering the Why of Dogs

 In Media releases, News

Have you ever wondered why Greyhounds can outrun Usain Bolt, Beagles can sniff out the faintest scent or Kelpies are such good workers?

The Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute’s BioInfoSummer public lecturer, Professor Claire Wade is using genetics to answer these questions. A geneticist with University of Sydney’s Faculty of Veterinary Science, she believes these insights may not only help us improve pet health and welfare, but advance our understanding of human biology and treatment targets.

‘Studying the genetics behind behaviours in dogs such as athleticism or separation anxiety has potential to open new treatment avenues not only for our pets but for us as well,” Professor Wade explains.

There are two broad types of dog breeds, ancient breeds and then all the others. As well as genetics and DNA, the breed groups share a long history of being manipulated by humans.

“We have been making use of the inherent abilities of dogs for a long time. We’ve used artificial selection to concentrate specific abilities to fit breeds for purpose from hunting and racing to working on farms,” says Professor Wade.

Professor Wade’s work has focused on identifying variations within breeds, beneficial mutations prevalent across a breed as a result of natural selection, a process referred to selective sweeping.

“Selective sweeps have provided insights into behaviour variations within a breed. For example, we’ve found that Kelpies are good working dogs partly due to their insensitivity to prickles, Greyhound athleticism is a case of good cardiovascular genes and Nova Scotia Duck Trolling retrievers have genes that affect their ability to taste bitter things, like citrus,” she explains.

Something many dog owners live with and manage particularly over the silly season with holidays and long days away from home socialising, separation anxiety is also an area of interest for Professor Wade.

“As with most complex traits, anxiety is affected by a mix of genes and the environment. There is no evidence that any specific breed is more susceptible but it does seem to run in family lines (of any breed),” says Professor Wade.

Professor Wade believes breeding practices have played a role. She explains, “for hundreds of years we’ve selected affectionate dogs for breeding who appear to love us increasing the prevalence of anxiety in our companions.”

Professor Wade will deliver the BioInfoSummer public lecture from 6pm,Tuesday, 29 November 2016 at the Flentje Lecture Theatre, Barr Smith Building (near Hub Central) at the University of Adelaide.

Exploring the cutting-edge of bioinformatics and mathematical and computational biology, BioInfoSummer runs from 28 November to 2 December at the University of Adelaide.

“Illustrating the cross-disciplinary application of mathematics and statistics, this event is a chance for advanced undergraduate and postgraduate students to experience this growing and important field,” says AMSI Director, Professor Geoff Prince.

Jointly funded by the Australian Government Department of Education and Training and the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute, BioInfoSummer is supported by The University of Adelaide, ABACBS, BHP Billiton Foundation (supporting the Choose Maths project), EMBL Australia, Flinders University, University of South Australia and Illumnia.

To attend, register online at

For Interview:
Professor Claire Wade
Professor Geoff Prince, AMSI Director

Media Contact: Laura Watson
M: 04215 18733
P: +613 9035 3683


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