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Woofing it down

Dr Eleanor Raffan

Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Career Development Fellow, Institute of Metabolic Science, University of Cambridge.

Dogs became man’s best friend through the work and companionship they offer, but recently a new way that dogs help humans has emerged – by teaching us about the ways genes link to disease.  That’s because human interference in dog breeding has meant modern dogs have very unusual genetics. 

People have long tinkered with dog breeding, since the friendliest descendants of wolves were encouraged to stay in human settlements, and dogs with expertise in their particular ‘trades’ – herding, rat-catching, retrieving – were preferentially bred.  But the big change came when Victorian dog fanciers set rules to define breeds, naming suitable specimens in stud books so that modern breeds often descend from a very small number of founder dogs. 

As a vet I got interested in genetics because I saw lots of breed-related disease in my patients.  I learnt the small gene pool from which modern breeds were formed both makes them prone to genetic disease and means we have a chance of finding the genes to blame.  In fact, it is commonly easier to track down disease genes in dogs than in humans.

My work focusses on obesity, a condition largely determined by our genes.  In this talk I will give examples of the lessons dogs have taught us about human biology, including why finding a mutation that makes Labradors greedy sheds light on how genes regulate hunger in people."


Woofing it down: lessons on obesity from man’s best friend

7.30PM – 8.30PM