Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A short note on aesthetics and genetics

If my human had a shred of observational or mathematical ability she would have wanted to study science, in particular genetics and evolution. She is fascinated by how all people are so similar and yet so different. She is also fascinated by the endless number of different species of animals that have evolved over time through slight genetic mutations. She has great respect for science and anyone who advances the way we think about our world and how it works.

Then again, she doesn’t really like the way some scientists are so absorbed by their work that they will do anything in the name of scientific advancement. My human’s friend was recently telling her about how she harvested rats (!!!). She is doing experiments which involve messing with rats’ blood cells so that they develop leukemia-like conditions then treating them with various drugs before harvesting various bits of the rats to see if the drugs were effective. This research is very important because it may lead to a cure for some cancer sickies and it’s even more important to my human’s friend because her dad died from a cancer-sickie.

Most people say that it’s ok to test various kinds of scientific things on animals because it could save the lives of many people and reduce the suffering of many more but my human is uncomfortable with this kind of reasoning. She says this argument only works if we accept that some lives are inherently worth less than others. If we accept this then we’d have to justify why some lives are worth less than others and figure out some sort of hierarchy of importance. Is an animal’s life worth less than a human’s? Is a child’s life worth less than an adult’s? Is a woman’s life worth less than a man’s? Is a black person’s life worth less than a white person’s? Is a gay person’s life worth less than a straight person’s? And even more complex questions like is a fetus’s life worth less than a baby’s? Is an embryo’s life worth less than a fetus’s? What about a stem cell? And so on...

Note from Timea: I thought I'd spare you a more accurate representation of a lab rat as this post is ranty enough as it is. :P Source.

No doubt some of you are feeling uncomfortable thinking about this. Well except regarding the first question. Most people just accept that it is acceptable to harm and kill animals by the thousands in order to test theories that may save the lives of humans. Maybe the reason people find it so easy to ignore the question regarding the worth of animals’ lives is because we cannot speak for ourselves. There can be no Rosa Parks of the animal kingdom because animals do not have a voice. My human is very uncomfortable with the idea that animals’ lives are worth less than humans’. But then again, maybe if her daddy had the cancer sickie she would feel differently.

Whoa….I digress. I better get back on topic because my head feels fuzzy :P

Anyway my human LOVES to read about different breeds of dogs and borrows all the dog encyclopedias she can get her hands on. She devours hundreds of pictures and can tell the difference between a King Charles Spaniel and a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel by the length of their nose and the difference between a Norwich Terrier and a Norfolk Terrier by the shape of their ears. She loves dogs of all sizes, shapes and colours. But the thing she finds most fascinating….the thing that brings out her wannabe-geneticist tendencies and makes her hyperventilate with excitement (I’m not kidding) is a simple coat colour. Or should I say pattern. Blue Merle. You may think it’s silly but until September 2009 my human did not even know this colour existed. Her life changed forever when she attended the Royal Melbourne Show and met her first Australian Shepherd. She says she felt the earth shift and she stared, dazed at the beautiful dog for a good ten minutes before she gathered her wits and asked the owner whether she could touch its speckled coat. The dog was a champion. It was aloof and focused on its owner in the way working dogs, particularly highly trained ones, often are. It suffered my human’s strokes but didn’t interact. And yet, she fell in love. Imagine her delight when she discovered that the gene which creates the blue merle coat occurs in many different breeds of dogs. Enjoy….

Rough Collie. Source.

Smooth Collie. Source.

Shetland Sheepdog. Source.

Pitbull. They get the gene from their staffy heritage but, strangely, I couldn't find a picture of a blue merle staffy. Source.

Poodle. Source.

Koolie. Source.

Great Dane. Source.

Pomeranian. Source.

Dapple Dachshund. Source.

Cardigan Welsh Corgi. Source.

Chihuahua. Source.

Louisiana Catahoula Leopard Dog. Source.

Border Collie. Source.

Australian Cattle Dog. Source.

Australian Shepherd. Source.

Mudi. Source.

Some breed standards recognize blue merle coat colour while others consider it a defect. My human doesn’t pay much heed to what kennel clubs consider acceptable. After all, some clubs require breeders to specifically select for traits that are downright dangerous to the dogs (the Rhodesian Ridgeback’s ridge, the Pug’s nose, the Cavalier’s head, the German Shepherd’s hips, the Shar Pei’s skin folds, the Irish Wolfhound’s huge size, the Basset’s extremely short legs and long back all come to mind). However, it’s worth noting that the gene which creates the blue merle coat and blue or blue and brown eyes can also cause deafness and eye problems. So, if you have your heart set on a blue merle doggie, make sure you find a reputable breeder and make sure that at least one of the parents is not blue merle (as both parents being blue merle increases the risk).

Well, I hope you've enjoyed this word and image heavy post. To all my blue merle friends out there, I'm kind of jealous.

Love, Oscar and the gang


  1. The blue merle color is so striking and beautiful! My Mommeh says my breed (Devon Rex) came about in 1960 as the result of a naturally occurring genetic mutation found in a cat named Kirlee. We are all descended from him!

  2. Hi Oscar!

    That was a very interesting post, seeing all the different breeds that come in Blue Merle!

    The topic of animal testing is a huge one with many different reasons while people agree with it or don't disagree with it! We try not to think about it.

    Laura learnt a lot about it on her course - nearly everything(I think its by law in NZ), must be tested on animals before it can be used on humans! Even products that say 'not tested on animals', the product itself hasn't been tested on them, but everything in that product has :( Even some pet foods do not nice testing on animals.

    Anyway that was rather depressing, we will leave on a positive note...

    Our favorite picture was the, you guessed it...GREAT DANE :)

    Licks and lots of slobber,
    Lexi and Jasper the Danes

  3. isn't the cattle dog actually roan ?

  4. I think when you cross two Merle's together you get a problem that's why some breeds see it's a fault