Thursday, November 18, 2010

I took a class on that in college

Bangor Campus 31

Of all the memorable quotes from my flamboyantly gay college evolutionary biology professor one sticks out in my memory. The first day of class, he told us that giant pandas are going extinct. There's no way to save them now. It's too late, their genetic diversity has, and I quote, "gone to shitte" (he was British). They're not only being coddled in captivity away from natural selection, but we've imposed a genetic bottleneck that will be impossible for them to live through as a species. It might make us feel good to breed a few pandas every year to gawk at in zoos, but as a viable, wild species they est kaput.

In case you weren't aware, there's currently a bit of a kerfluffle happening in an internet microme about genetic diversity in dogs, lack thereof, and the consequences (or denial of consequences) of inbreeding. It's interesting on many levels, not the least of which is the social aspect of the relationships among and between dog breeders and breed-lovers.

What facinates me about this current 'debate' is the tendancy for the "pro-inbreeding" crowd to treat dogs as if they are a special case in nature.

"Inbreeding depression" is a thing. It is a well-studied phenomenon. It has the name it does for a reason. Why are breeders trying to deny that it can effect dogs, too?

Others have already said this, but it bears repeating: You can't inbreed your way to a healthier population. You can't even maintain a species if it's genetic diversity becomes too compromised, even if you have enough individual animals to breed with. That's why the pandas are screwed.

It's apparently a common belief among dog breeders that you can somehow improve the breed by removing diversity. This doesn't make sense. If you fart in a sealed room, you can't make the smell go away by farting more. You open a window for new air.

Likewise, the fear of outcrossing confuses me. Why is this even a debate? The dalmatian outcross project is the most obvious example of the potential of this time-honored breeding technique. And yet even that raving success story, instead of inspiring other breeders to follow suit, is met with fear and revulsion.

If a new, untouched wild population of pandas or condors, or whatever, was discovered, conservation biologists would be peeing themselves in glee to have new genes to add to their captive breeding program. And here we are with domestic dogs, throwing away genetic diversity left and right, even when there are proven alternatives. All my science-loving brain can say is, "WTF?"


BorderWars said...

Your link sentence had me on the floor. Rampant denialism is right!

Jess said...

I love you. Your linking had me giggling hysterically. The fart comment is priceless.

Retrieverman said...

Great post, Suzanne!

Inbeeding is like farting? Excellent.

I love the creative linking.

Suzanne said...

Thank you. I'm always looking to work a fart joke into any conversation.

The meanderings of a history hound said...

Oh my goodness.

Bloody friggin' brilliant! Even my neanderthal husband could understand it when compared to farting! LOL!

Suzanne said...

Fart jokes cross all cultural boundaries.