Animals need not be extremely long-lived, like bats, to yield meaningful insights into longevity. Take dogs, for example. Breeds vary widely in average lifespan, from mastiffs that live just seven years to toy poodles and some small terriers that average 13 to 14. (Curiously, smaller breeds generally live longer than big ones — the opposite of the pattern that’s seen when species are compared.)
“Dogs are an awesome species to study aging,” says Daniel Promislow, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of Washington and coauthor of a review on the topic planned for the 2022 Annual Review of Animal Bioscience. Not only do they vary widely in longevity, but because they live with people, they also share environmental risk factors. Best of all, every dog comes with its own research assistant — a committed owner who watches their dog closely. “When I give a seminar on my fruit fly research, nobody comes up to me and says, ‘I love fruit flies.’ But people love dogs,” Promislow says.
Promislow is codirector of a new initiative, known as the Dog Aging Project, which aims to uncover the reasons for breed-to-breed differences in longevity. The project is enrolling 30,000 family dogs, purebred and mixed, from across the US to track their health, longevity and disease. (The project is still recruiting dogs but expects to have all the canine participants it needs by mid-2022.) The scientists will sequence the genomes of 8,500 animals and make more detailed measurements of gene activity and other processes for 1,000 more. This should allow them to identify genes related to breed differences in aging and longevity.
Read the full article in Knowable Magazine.