Turns out: Spot’s genome says he’s supposed to like your potatoes

I think that even a lot of dog owners are confused by the fact that the family dog will eat pretty much anything a human will. Most people assume that dogs are carnivores, preferring a nice lamb chop to a plate full of noodles. And anyway: isn’t Garfield the Cat supposed to like lasagna?

The truth is that dogs are omnivorous animals, eating a varied diet of meat and vegetables and starches, the same as humans. In fact, scientists comparing and contrasting the genomes of domesticated dogs and their ancestors, the wolves, have discovered evidence that making the transition from carnivore to omnivore is cornerstone to the domestication process.

Ten genes with key roles in starch digestion and fat metabolism also show signals of selection. We identify candidate mutations in key genes and provide functional support for an increased starch digestion in dogs relative to wolves. Our results indicate that novel adaptations allowing the early ancestors of modern dogs to thrive on a diet rich in starch, relative to the carnivorous diet of wolves, constituted a crucial step in the early domestication of dogs.

Scientists found several changes in key gene groups between wolves and domestic dogs. Most of these changes concerned with brain and neurological functions. But these ten changes, concerning the ability to digest starches, signify to the research team that this genetic shift was as crucial in the development of domesticated dogs as any of the others.

While many years of anthropological theory have held that wolves were domesticated as an intentional effort by humans, modern scientists do not believe that is the case. New evidence suggest that, rather than humans domesticating wolves, the wolves made that decision themselves. At least, evolutionarily speaking. Because humans and wolves competed for the same food and territories, those wolves who were genetically predisposed to be a little tamer and a little calmer around humans had the good fortune to benefit from all the trash humans left behind. The new genomic evidence lends weight to this theory, since the ability to digest starches also provides an advantage to an animal feeding off the starch-rich diets of humans.

By Tommy Belknap

Owner, developer, editor of DragonFlyEye.Net, Tom Belknap is also a freelance journalist for The 585 lifestyle magazine. He lives in the Rochester area with his wife and son.

1 reply on “Turns out: Spot’s genome says he’s supposed to like your potatoes”

This was a great article. Not that all of them aren’t! lol This one just grabbed more of my attention because of the title. I’ve never had a dog that would eat potatoes. Whole potatoes. Like salt potatoes or even boiled potatoes. Why is that? Too plain? Not enough smell? Napoleon would put the tater in his mouth, mess with it, then spit it out. Daisy just turns her nose up at them. Ok Tom. Bring on the science (or is this more of a veterinary thing)!! Wait for it!!! We have 20 seconds on the clock. And……….go!!

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