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A link between coat color and certain behavioral traits has reportedly been discovered in a couple of dog breeds.

A dog’s colour reflects a pooch’s personality, scientists say, at least in one breed, the English cocker spaniel.

The latest study, recently published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science, shows that golden/red English cocker spaniels exhibit the most dominant and aggressive behaviour.

Black dogs in this breed are the second most aggressive, while particolour (white with patches of colour) are more mild-mannered.

Earlier research suggests that hair colour is also linked to behaviour in labrador retrievers.

For this breed, the most aggressive are the yellow ones, the next most aggressive are the black dogs and the least aggressive are the chocolate coloured ones.

The behaviour-hair colour connection is likely due to related genetic coding that takes place during the pup’s earliest life stages, according to lead author Dr Joaquín Pérez-Guisado.

“Maybe the link [to coat colour] is due to the fact that the ectoderm [one of the three primary germ cell layers] is where the skin and central nervous system originate in the embryo,” he says.

Pérez-Guisado, a Spanish researcher in the Department of Medicine and Animal Surgery at the University of Cordoba, and his colleagues measured levels of dominance and aggression in 51 seven-week-old English cocker spaniel puppies that were either full siblings or half siblings.

The tests looked at how quickly a person could capture a puppy’s attention, how well puppies followed the individual, how the dogs behaved while restrained, how they exerted their social dominance and what they did when they were lifted off the floor.

In many cases, the golden-coloured dogs resisted human contact and even tried to bite the tester, while the particolour pups often wagged their tails and seemed to enjoy the attention.

While genes control coat colour and appear to predispose behaviour in certain dogs, Pérez-Guisado says how dogs are raised plays the biggest role in behaviour.

He shows that environmental factors account for 80% of dominant, aggressive personalities while genes only influence 20% of dogs’ demeanours.

“It is very important to give the dog an optimum and suitable environment in order to have a dog with a low dominance aggressive behaviour level,” he says.

“For that reason, owners are primarily responsible for this undesirable dog behaviour.”

I say reportedly discovered because the link to Applied Animal Behaviour Science gives at least the contents of all past issues, but using my browser’s “find” didn’t turn up any paper by a Dr. Joaquin Perez-Guisado published in 2006-2007. If anyone can find a link to any part of it, please update this post or put it in the comments.

Of course it’s impossible to evaluate these claims without reading the paper. This doesn’t seem to bode well:

“Maybe the link [to coat colour] is due to the fact that the ectoderm [one of the three primary germ cell layers] is where the skin and central nervous system originate in the embryo,” he says.

Whether these findings are true and the actual magnitude of any genetic link between dog personalities and color potentially constitutes an important path to more widespread public acceptance of genetic relationships between physical and behavioral phenotypes. If it’s a good enough theory to help you pick out a new Fido for the kids… Or, perhaps more plausibly, the usual fringe crazies on both sides can use bizarre analogies to support their pet paranoias1. Cocker spaniels show that gingers really are a threat to the rest of us!

Via Geek Press.

1 – Pun not intended and only belatedly noticed.

• Category: Science 
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A common aphorism in the legal world is that the worst thing for a libeled celebrity to do is sue and spread the alleged falsehoods even more widely. So my thanks to Tom Cruise’s legal team for bringing the subject of this post to my attention. (For a more pithy and very amusing take, please see Overlawyered.)

As first brought to my attention here, in the wake of the Cruise-Holmes pregnancy announcement a neurologist and Metafilter participant argued in a since deleted comment that Tom Cruise might suffer from mild symptoms of holoprosencephaly. Someone recently started a new thread noting that at some point this comment, apparently a relatively famous and well regarded one by the Metafilter community, had been deleted. By this afternoon, that entire thread had been deleted after the original claims had been reposted and much speculation ensued that Cruise’s infamous legal team threatened Metafilter into removing it.

The original claims, which I saw reposted this morning before they were once again deleted, were contemporaneously recorded here:

The wonderful photo of the grinning Cruise illustrates beautifully the reason why I think this report might not be true, or at the very least, might be premature. Check out his teeth. That’s right, Cruise has only three incisors – he was born with a fused, midline incisor. He’s had dental work, including reshaping and adult braces, to minimize the abnormal appearance of this tooth – in early photos you’ll find he almost never smiles, and when he does you can see that the middle incisor is freakishly wide.

Midline incisor can be a forme fruste of holoprosencephaly, a syndrome which in its more severe manifestions can lead to cyclopia, fusion of the frontal lobes, a primitive proboscis instead of a nose (located above the fusion eyeball), and other grisly abnormalities. [Caution: disturbing medical photographs.]

The babies are usually aborted or stillborn, which if you recall was the fate of Nicole’s first couple of preganancies (after the first one, she clammed up about it.)

Further evidence of this heritable trait comes from Cruise’s history; his biological father was mildly retarded and beat him severely as a child. Mild retardation, with or without violent behaviors, can also be part of an incomplete holoprosencephaly syndrome.

Amusingly, one of the genes found to be mutated in holoprosencephaly is called sonic hedgehog. It is a human analog of a gene first described in Drosophila fruit flies; embryos with the gene knocked out develop a spiky appearance and are non-viable. More than one gene knockout produced this ‘hedgehog’ appearance; some wag dubbed this member of the hedgehog family “sonic.”

In any event, I suspect Cruise might carry one or even a pair of these holoprosencephaly genes, and if so, this pregnancy might not make it. I hope I’m wrong, though; no matter how you feel about Tom Cruise, genetic diseases really suck.

Could this, and not the gay/sham marriage rumors, be the secret about Tom and Nicole’s marriage that she’s seemed to be keeping? Is this why Tom bought a sonogram machine for personal use – to prevent leaking of rumors or photos if any abnormality had been been discovered? More speculatively, was there some minor cosmetic problem that led to the blackout on Suri appearances for months after her birth while it was corrected? While withholding pictures was hardly strange behavior, I recall that even many close friends had not seen her.

Tom Cruise has been a quasi-popular topic among GNXP contributors and commentors before, most relevantly here, when Nicole Kidman’s miscarriages with Tom Cruise were used to eliminate her from speculation over what Oscar winning actress might suffer from what sounded like Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. Ironically, those miscarriages look like possible evidence for genetic abnormalities on the other side of the relationship.

Finally, I note this post from last year commenting on the original claims of holoprosencephaly. It includes what is apparently the picture that launched this theory, as well as this interesting observation:

What does it say about beauty as a marker of reproductive potential that hardly anyone seems to have noticed Cruise’s potentially sterility-denoting genetic anomaly until now? When you also take into account that some of the most strikingly beautiful women are actually genetically male, you have to wonder how much stock to put into the claim that looks tell you anything about reproductive fitness. It isn’t exactly as if the typical mother of 10 is or ever was a potential Hollywood starlet either.

[And on an unrelated note, an introduction – I’m GNXP’s newest guest blogger. My educational background is actually in economics and law, so my contributions will tend to take a “lay” approach to issues of potential interest to GNXP readers. They will also, at least in the near future, be few in number – I am entering the Army to attend basic training and then Officer Candidate School shortly after the new year.)

• Category: Science 
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