Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Puppy love: FrankenFido?

Slate's William Saletan has an interesting angle on the news that scientists have sequenced the dog genome:
In the course of engineering dogs to look, feel, and act as we wanted, we ruined millions of them. We gave them legs so short they couldn't run, noses so flat they couldn't breathe, tempers so hostile they couldn't function in society. Even our best intentions backfired. Nature invented sexual reproduction to diversify gene pools and dilute bad variants. By forcing dogs into incest (which we ban among humans, in part for biological reasons), we defied nature. We concentrated each bad gene in a breed, magnifying its damage: epilepsy for springer spaniels, diabetes for Samoyeds, bone cancer for Rottweilers. That's why the dog genome is so nifty: We can find disease genes just by comparing one breed's DNA to another's.

Well, too bad for the dogs. But three cheers for us and our experiment. "The dog genome is a wonderful playground for geneticists," exults the New York Times. "A treasure trove," says the San Francisco Chronicle. "A convenient laboratory," agrees Reuters.

Man's best friend, indeed.

I'm a dog lover, and I can't imagine life without these critters. At the same time, I know that my species' love of dogs has resulted in the infliction of boundless cruelty on an animal that seems uniquely capable of perceiving that cruelty. If only we could explain to the dogs that we are equal-opportunity despots; that we can be just as cruel to other humans -- maybe then dogs wouldn't seem to take it so hard.


1 comment:

mdmhvonpa said...

I have 2 yellow labs ... the most fabulous dogs ever to roam the earth. They tolerate my twin 3yr olds so well!