Wednesday, 3 January 2018

BBB is 'Tamed' by Alice Roberts?

Gail and I read a most fascinating and canine-relevant scientific book during our Christmas stay in Nottingham, so of course I, Bouncing Bertie Boffin (BBB for short) am bursting to tell you all about it!

'Tamed: Ten Species that Changed Our World' is by Alice Roberts, and it is all about how, when and where different plants and animals were domesticated.

I knew straight away I opened the book that Professor Roberts had her priorities in order when I saw that Chapter One concerned my very own species.

Before I tell you more about the dogs chapter, I want to remind you that nowadays archaeologists can combine and enrich their findings with results from ever more sophisticated techniques of DNA analysis and radiocarbon dating, and what was once a matter for speculation now rests on more solid foundations.

Did you ever hear about Razbo, whose skull was found in 2011 in Razboinichya Cave, in the Altai Mountains of Siberia? It seems that, at c.33,000 years old he might just be the most ancient dog yet discovered.

Now there has been a fair bit of controversy concerning Razbo. The problem is that, when only a skull is available, key indicators of 'dogginess', such as the tendency to tilt one's head endearingly in order to extract another expensively tasty shop-bought treat from one's human, cannot be verified. What we do know is that Razbo had a snout that was short and broad - a feature typical of us domesticated types. However, the structure of Razbo's jaw is rather more wolf-like than anything one might encounter at Crufts. Anyway, it is now the settled view of the experts (at least until someone comes along and does another study - such is science) that Razbo was indeed a dog, who pre-dated the last Ice Age and lived companionably alongside a community of hunter gatherers, well before anyone thought of settling down to farming and all that Neolithic carry-on.

What else does Professor Roberts have to say? Well it seems that in the process of dog domestication, selection has acted in favour of the ASIP gene (Agouti Signalling Protein, since you asked). This gene acts to diminish aggression and it also encodes a protein involved in mediating pigment production. So a gene which modifies behaviour can come with the unexpected side effect of altering appearance. Which helps explain why you get affable, multi-coloured pups like me, all in one simply adorable package!

Oh and one more thing. Do you ever eat cereals, rice or potatoes? I confess I do sometimes. I now know that I can digest these foods because, unlike wolves, I possess multiple copies of the gene for producing amylase, the enzyme for digesting starch. What's even more interesting, I think, is  that modern dog breeds vary in their exact number of copies of the amylase gene, and the breeds who have the most amylase genes tend to be descendants of dogs from parts of the world where a lot of cereal was eaten.

(On the subject of diet, I am thinking it a pity that dog domestication did not originate in a cocoa growing part of the world, where selection pressure would act in favour of genes for chocolate tolerance. Just a festive flight of fancy....)

Anyway, Gail says I have rambled on for long enough.

Prof. Alice Roberts and friend
Gosh I just want to say finally that all the other chapters in 'Tamed' are very interesting too, even though they are not about dogs. Yes, really!


  1. Very interesting, even if it did make me hungry.

  2. Hari OM
    That is an excellent summary of what I am certain was a deep and engaging chapter!!! Regarding the dietary adaptation thing - the same is true of humans, which is why most are best to stick to a diet pertaining to their ethnic roots; and why there is so much food intolerance now, as we cross-polinate. Great post BBB!!! Hugs and wags, YAM-aunty xxx

  3. It does sound like a very interesting read. Thanks for sharing it BBB.

  4. loved it! Thank you for the summary, which we are certain is excellent. However, Teka takes exception to any thoughts of limiting doggie diets. Unless we are talking about grapefruit, which she simply abhors.

  5. Is it wrong to be seriously jealous that Razbo got to chew on wooly mammoth size bones?
    Loves and licky kisses
    Princess Leah xxx

  6. MOL MOL MOL Princess Leah's comment cracked me up. OMCs that gal is royally f u n n y!!
    I hope Razbo had some hairball remedy way back 33,000 years ago 'cause I know he probably had a major wooly hairball.

    BBB and Gail. you find the most interesting books to read and we thank you for sharing with us.
    Hugs madi your bfff

  7. Ohhhhh, if only we had that chocolate tolerance!!!

  8. Chocolate? Is it that stuff that my human keeps well out of my way and says it's not for doggies? Well, it's obviously for humans 'cos she ate some over Christmas ! (But don't let her know I told you !)
    A very interesting subject Bertie - thanks for sharing it.

    Inca xx

  9. That is fascinating Bertie and we know you're walking a bit taller these days! Sounds a very interesting study, but we might skip the chapter about cats.

  10. That book sounds so very interesting!
    Hazel & Mabel

  11. Very Very Interesting BBB. Lee was looking to see if amylase has anything to do with Amyloidosis enzyme and proteins. My Lee gets easily distracted. The effect of altering appearance sounds kind of like a Jekyll and Hyde. I think with the weather I am going to be in Nati Siberia.
    Thanks for being a friend
    Sweet William The Scot

  12. Thanks Bertie. Very informative as per usual

  13. Wow Bertie, you know all about scientific things don't you? To get genetic information from such an ancient canine is quite interesting! We are sure the first chapter was the best one!

    Keep Calm & Bark On!

    Murphy & Stanley

  14. This sounds like an incredible book! Thanks so much for sharing it.
    Tootsie & her mom