Barack Obama's Dog Bo is a Mutant

While 95 percent of dogs sampled had coats that could be explained by the three genes, a few breeds showed that they must be getting some genetic information from elsewhere, so researchers still have a little work to do to explain dogs completely.

"Some of the long-haired breeds don't seem to be sharing these mutations," Fretwell said.

While the study itself may not have immediate benefits, researchers and dog advocates alike are optimistic that this line of inquiry will have benefits down the road.

"There's no direct benefit because coat variation is not a medical issue," Peterson said. "The study itself is wonderful to provide more knowledge to study traits and do more research toward canine and human health."

Ostrander said, "Dogs really give us a tremendous opportunity as geneticists to understand the genetic underpinnings of lots and lots of things that we're interested in. All the same rules, all the same methods, all the same techniques will be the same for diseases as well. They get all the same diseases humans do and the same genes are likely to be involved."

The breeding patterns of dogs -- where they have been selectively bred for specific traits for centuries -- have also been an asset.

"The dog genomes … will lead to some discoveries in some diseases in the future that will enable us to find the cause to diseases that are hard to get to the bottom of in humans," Fretwell said.

"If you find a gene in dogs, oftentimes it has the same function in humans," he said. "The gene function is very well conserved between the species."

"The process that was used to identify these coat variation genes can act as a model for studying complexly inherited disease in animals and in man," said Jerold Bell, clinical associate professor of genetics at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. "Another more specific benefit is that some of these coat variation genes are also linked to specific skin diseases, such as hair follicle tumors and follicular dysplasia."

Additional uses could also be found, said Fretwell, in the cosmetics industry, where hair genetics might prove a useful area of inquiry.

Safer Dog Breeding

While purebred dogs can often suffer from genetic illnesses as a result of inbreeding, genetics research may be able to lessen that problem.

"All the genetic research that's been done now enables responsible breeders to breed healthier dogs," Peterson said.

And that may be more important with time, particularly for dogs like Bo.

While breeders don't discriminate between curly- and wavy-haired Portuguese water dogs, Fretwell speculates that the curly-haired variety may find themselves a more popular variant of the breed.

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