He even said, "There is a possibility that breeds and individual dogs bred for high independence and endurance actually possess traits similar to those of autistic humans."
Because of the genetic connections to humans, dogs could serve "as a novel model system for human social disorders," the researchers believe. Adam Miklosi, director of the Family Dog Project and head of ethology at Eötvös Loránd University, told Discovery News that another canine expert, Karen Overall, raised a similar idea back in the year 2000.
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"The present results could be interesting as indicating a few new candidate genes regulating social behavior in dogs," Miklosi said, but he added that more work would have to be done to rule out alternative explanations for the recent findings, such as the possibility that "laboratory beagles may represent a specific population of dogs."
"Furthermore," he added, "researchers assume that the number of genes involved in both schizophrenia and autistic spectrum disorders could be more than 100," so it may not be very surprising that Jensen and his colleagues identified some of them in dogs.
Daniel Mills, a professor of veterinary behavioral medicine at the University of Lincoln, said, "There has been tremendous growth over the last 10–15 years in appreciation of the value of domestic dogs as models of human behavior, and their ability to help us answer questions that we simply can't do with other species."
At present, Jensen and his colleagues are studying wolves to see if they show the variations that dogs do within the same genetic markers. He suspects that they will, "since domestication is mostly caused by selection of already existing variation in the wild ancestors."
A future application of the research could be to allow owners and breeders to have their dogs' DNA tested to see whether the dogs have a genetic predisposition to be more or less interactive with humans.
Eventually, the genes associated with disorders could be modified to help eliminate many psychological problems in both humans and dogs.
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