Friday, February 06, 2009

And White Wolves Come from Mars

The New York Times reports :

In a bit of genetic sleuthing, a team of researchers has determined that black wolves and coyotes in North America got their distinctive color from dogs that carried a gene mutation to the New World.

The finding presents a rare instance in which a genetic mutation from a domesticated animal has benefited wild animals by enriching their “genetic legacy,” the scientists write in Thursday’s Science Express, the online edition of the journal Science. Since black wolves are more common in forested areas than on the tundra, the researchers concluded that melanism — the pigmentation that came from the mutation — must give those animals an adaptive advantage.

I have to say that I am not buying it for a very simple reason: melanism is a relatively common occurrence among ALL animals, same as albinoism is. It naturally occurs in deer, mice, beaver, squirrels, fox, raccoon and every other mammal under the sun, and there is no need for it to have migrated in from dogs.

As for the New York Times article by Mark Derr, it is mostly bullshit.

Read it carefully, and note how he carefully fudges dates and intentionally complicates paragraphs in order to obscure the fact that it is unclear whether the melanistic gene predates dogs and wolves coming to North America -- or the rise of dogs at all.

In short, the scientists here appear to be saying nothing very definitive other than wolves and dogs are related (no news there), and so too is the gene that creates melanism in wolves and dogs (not much news there).

Pardon me if I think that story is a bit of a yawn. And I guess Mark Derr did too, because he worked like hell to tell a different story that is not demonstrably supported by the data.

As for dogs and mDNA, you will pardon me if I do not rush out and salute everything written just right now.

Remember that there's a small raft of scientists and companies who claim they can take a cheek swab from your dog and tell you what breed it is, sight unseen. But, in fact, it is bunk. These companies have been shown to be fakes, and the folks doing the tests cannot tell a Chihuahua from a Dalmatian based on DNA evidence alone.

Caveat emptor. And I think that is especially true when reading news reports about purported scientific breakthroughs. Look for the weasel words: may, might, could, perhaps, etc.

In this case, the paragraph that wipes out the first four is the fifth one. You were supposed to have stopped reading before you got to it, or else leaped over it to the rest of the story which is mostly naked conjecture.

Shame on you if you stopped at paragraph five and read it two or three times!

(hat tip to Reid Farmer for pointing me to the NYT article)



Chester's Mom said...

Great comeback to a very "iffy" article! I have been dealing with several folks who own rescued dogs and are spending the $$ to get the genetics test done... one even returned hers to the rescue when it came back as mostly Rottweiler! Can you please point me to the info showing they are fakes so I have some ammunition? Thanks!

Beth Patterson
Foxdale Ind Rescue
King NC

PBurns said...

See >>

For video, see >>

Lots more if you look around.


Romilda Gareth said...