behavioral-genetics | episodes

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Behavioral Genetics

Our guest today is Jessica Hekman, the President of Functional Dog Collaborative and a teacher of behavioral biology at Virginia Tech. She joins us to discuss her work on behavioral genetics, particularly in dogs.

Jessica gave background information about what the Functional Dog Collaborative does. Jessica discussed how dog breeders can breed dogs with reduced risks of undesirable traits or diseases. She also discussed how genes that cause diseases can be detected and mentioned the possibility of changing some undesirable genes.

Jessica discussed the extent to which genetics affects behavior. She also discussed how she and her coauthors got data to understand breed behaviors that are scientific or based on our perception.

Jessica also discussed how they can measure how much a dog demonstrates its breed ancestry. She discussed how she and her coauthors perform experiments to understand the genetic or environmental influence on a dog’s behavior. She discussed future research ideas in the field.

Paper in focus

Ancestry-inclusive dog genomics challenges popular breed stereotypes

Learn more about our guest

Functional Dog Collaborative

Functional breeding podcast

The Dog Zombie

Jessica Hekman

Jessica is a veterinary researcher who is fascinated by dog behavior. After 11 years of working as a computer programmer, she decided to go back to school to research the causes of behavior problems in dogs. She received her veterinary degree in 2012 from the Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in Massachusetts, where she also received a Masters degree for her work on stress behaviors in hospitalized dogs. After graduation, she completed a year-long internship specializing in shelter medicine at the University of Florida Maddie's Shelter Medicine Program. She received her PhD in genetics at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, studying a group of foxes (often known as the "Siberian silver foxes") which have been bred over many generations to be friendly to humans. She has worked at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard as a computational biologist, studying the genetics of behavior in pet dogs through the Darwin's Ark project and the Working Dogs Project.

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