Einstein Science Reporting for Kids
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11-Sep-2008

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American Association for the Advancement of Science

The 'hairless' gene



Chinese crested dogs: hairless and coated (Powderpuff) variants.

When you see a hairless breed of dog, you probably realize that they are not like most other dogs. Some people think they are cute. Others think they are ugly. But hairless dogs are definitely unique. In fact, the ancient Aztecs of Mexico even considered hairless dogs to be sacred, and statues of hairless dogs date all the way back to 1700 BC.

Today, hairless dogs are helping scientists better understand how animals' bodies develop over time. By looking at their DNA, researchers have found the particular gene that is responsible for the "hairless" trait in these special dogs.

For a dog, being hairless means having a patchy coat of fur (or no fur at all) and a strange, abnormal set of teeth. Swiss researcher Cord Drögemüller and colleagues studied Chinese crested hairless dogs, along with Mexican and Peruvian hairless dog breeds, and identified exactly what gives these dogs their odd-looking traits.

They found a mutation on a particular gene, which they called FOXI3, to be responsible for hairless breeds of dog. When they mutated the same FOXI3 gene in a group of mice, the researchers saw that the mice had abnormal hair, whiskers, and teeth as well.

That result told Drögemüller and the team of researchers that the FOXI3 gene plays a large role in the development of those tissues and organs. So the next time you see a hairless dog, you will know that it has a mutated FOXI3 gene that makes it how it is.

These findings were published in the 12 September issue of the journal Science.

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