Even when they're not wearing tiny cowboy hats, dachshunds are hysterical. We've been snickering at our wiener dogs and their short little legs since the 15th century and yet genetic science has only recently allowed us to understand exactly why they're so cute.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science recently reported that scientists with the National Human Genome Research Institute have pinpointed exactly why dachshunds have tiny legs. Geneticist Elaine Ostrander had previously discovered a key size-determining gene called IGF-1 that, while prevalent in smaller dogs, was conspicuously absent from larger breeds. In addition to this shortening gene, some dogs -- such as dachshunds and basset hounds -- carry an extra retrogene responsible for their truncated limbs.
An article in the New Scientist ponders whether this knowledge of canine DNA will lead to a future dominated by genetically augmented designer dog breeds. Not all the possible ramifications sound like a Dean Koontz novel. Ostrander says that similar discoveries in the human genome may lead to a better understanding of dwarfism and some forms of cancer.