Is It All About The Genes?

With Guest Chatters, Dr. Alice Moon-Fanelli CAAB, and Dr. Stephen Zawistoski CAAB

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We all know that genes influence behavior.  But claims we hear every day make it clear that popular ideas about how genes affect behavior are disconnected from the actual science of behavior genetics.  Consider the following statements we’ve all heard repeatedly:

  • “Fill in the blank breed” aren’t naturally aggressive.  It’s all in how they’re raised and trained.
  • “Fill in the blank breed” are inherently dangerous with a “killer instinct”.
  • Aggression is 80% environmental and 20% genetic (fill in whatever percentage you want).
  • Behavior is inherited.
  • There is a gene for aggression. We just haven’t found it yet.
  • “For example, the mastiff, bull dogs, pitbulls, and boxers, etc. are closely related to one another. The aggression noted in these breeds can certainly be explained as genetic.” (ACTA VET. BRNO 2007, 76: 431-444; doi:10.2754/avb200776030431).
  • It’s instinctive for dogs to guard their food, bury their bones, turn around in circles before lying down, etc.

Turns out, these claims – stated as they are – aren’t even the right way to ask questions that can be the subject of behavior genetic research.   In this CAAB Chat, we’ll begin by chatting about the methods of behavior genetic research and analysis and define some terms.

You’ll be fascinated as you listen to behavior geneticists and fellow CAABs Dr. Alice Moon-Fanelli and Dr. Steve Zawistowski –describe how genetic research is conducted, using their own research as examples.  Drs. Alice and Steve will enlighten us about:

  • Phenotypes and genotypes and why defining a phenotype is a crucial part of genetic research
  • An overview of heritability – what it really means and what’s required to measure it
  • The effects of relaxed selection, with the pitbull being a great example
  • The “Charlotte’s Web” of gene-gene and gene-environment interactions that influence gene expression

From there we’ll chat about some of the new research in behavior genetics as it pertains to dogs (and other animals) and how the research methods being used affect the quality of the results.

Behavior genetics is a complicated, complex field that is easily misunderstood by all of us who aren’t trained in its methods and terminology.  We learned a TON just by planning this Chat with Steve and Alice, and now it’s your chance.  Don’t miss it!

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PLEASE BE AWARE: There was a last minute technical issue with Dr. Zawistwoski’s microphone, resulting in significant background interference noise at the beginning of the replay.  This interference is successfully managed and muted as the replay continues past the 8 minute mark. So don’t give up at the beginning – we are able to mute the noise out most of the time by the 2nd” chapter” / topic divisions in the chat.