One hundred years later, the feat of the famous American dog Balto explained by his DNA – 04/27/2023 at 22:38

2023-04-27 20:38:12

Balto stuffed at the Natural History Museum in Cleveland, USA ( EUREKALERT! / – )

He has his statue in Central Park in New York, an animated film to his glory, and now, a dedicated scientific study: the DNA of the sled dog Balto, one of the most famous canids in the United States, was analyzed 90 years after his death, and sheds light on his legendary endurance.

In 1925, Balto took part in an expedition to Alaska dubbed the “serum race”. The objective was to save the inhabitants of a small town, located in a very remote area, by bringing an anti-diphtheria drug.

In the blizzard and despite extreme temperatures, Balto led the group of sled dogs that traveled the last tens of kilometres.

Stuffed after his death in 1933, he is now on display at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

“Balto’s fame and the fact that he was stuffed gives us this great opportunity, 100 years later, to see what this population of sled dogs looked like genetically, and compare it to modern dogs,” explained in a press release Katherine Moon, researcher at the University of California at Santa Cruz and lead author of this study published Thursday in the journal Science.

The scientists took samples from the skin of his belly, and reconstructed his genome.

They compared it with the genome of more than 680 modern dogs, representing 135 breeds.

Contrary to legend that Balto was part wolf (and as the 1995 Universal Pictures animated film suggests), analysis has discerned no wolf ancestors.

Balto shares common ancestry with present-day Siberian Huskies, and Alaskan and Greenland sled dogs.

– Better health –

The scientists also compared its genetic heritage to the alignment of the genome of 240 species of mammals, carried out within the framework of an international collaboration called the Zoonomia Project.

This technique helps determine which parts of DNA are the same across all species, and therefore have not changed over millions of years of evolution. This stability indicates that these are areas with important functions, and that mutations at their level could be dangerous.

Result: Balto had fewer potentially dangerous variations than modern dog breeds, indicating likely better health.

“Balto had variants in genes related to things like weight, coordination, joint formation, skin thickness, which makes sense for a dog bred to thrive in such an environment,” Katherine pointed out. Moon.

Finally, the study sought to reconstruct his physical appearance from his genome, with results in line with the historical photos we have of him, and his preserved remains.

Balto had a shoulder height of 55cm, and a black coat with a tiny bit of white.

“This project gives everyone an idea of ​​what is beginning to be possible through comparisons with increasing quality genomes,” said Katherine Moon. “These are things we’ve never done before. I feel like an explorer, and again Balto is leading the way.”

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