Scientists Spot Dog Fur Color Gene
This canine insight could help humans, team says
THURSDAY, Nov. 1 (HealthDay News) -- Dogged research has identified a gene that determines canine coat color, and the discovery could have implications for human health, too
A team from Stanford University School of Medicine says the finding may help lead to a better understanding of why humans come in different weights and have varying abilities to cope with stress.
They analyzed DNA samples from hundreds of dogs and pinpointed a gene that makes the beta defensin protein. One version of the gene produces yellow dogs, while a mutant version produces black dogs, the researchers found.
The gene belongs to the large family of defensin genes, which may play a role in fighting infections, although that's not certain.
What is clear is that this newly-identified beta-defensin gene engages a pathway that determines skin and hair color as well as stress adaptation and weight regulation, the Stanford researchers said. The identification of a new gene in this pathway creates new possibilities for drug research.
The beta-defensin gene is part of a large and variable family of defensin genes. Humans can have between 40 and 50 defensin genes, and dogs can carry up to 46 of these genes.
"The most important observation that stems from the paper is that in trying to understand what defensins really do, we've been looking under a lamppost based on the way in which the gene family was named," research team leader Dr. Greg Barsh said in a prepared statement.
"In fact, we really have very little evidence that defensins do much in terms of defending. The genetic approach is more agnostic and suggests that defensins have additional or alternative functions outside the immune system."
Barsh said the next steps in this line of research involve determining what human defensins do and whether they may be useful in helping develop new drugs.
The study is published in the Nov. 2 issue of the journal Science.
The U.S. National Institute of General Medical Sciences has more about genes.
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