Friday, April 24, 2009

Dog domestication & traveling the world

Part of why this blog is called "Travels with Darwin" is because Ryan and I are evolutionary biologists. The other part is that we have a dog named Darwin, and we travel most when we're doing stuff related to dog DNA collection.

So how do you actually wind up getting your job to send you to a dozen countries in two months? Apparently, you work for the Village Dog Project. The description of the project is below:
Understanding the evolution and domestication in dogs requires genetic analysis of a global and diverse panel of non-breed-affiliated village dogs. With a network of worldwide and Cornell-affiliated collaborators, we plan to gather dog samples from remote villages, establish a genetic archive containing DNA and phenotypic information from these dogs, carry out genetic analyses on these samples, and develop computational methods for analyzing this dataset. In particular, we are interested in understanding the location, timing, and demographic conditions underlying domestication; the genetic changes involved in the transition of wolf to dog; the relationship between these village dogs and the breed dogs; and the effect that historical forces have shaped village dog diversity.
How we wound up with this gig is a story for another time. Basically, there just are remarkably few people willing to travel through every part of the third world at the fastest rate possible, collecting dog DNA and permits for dog DNA under the most bizarre conditions you can imagine.

I've collected DNA out of the backs of 4 x 4s, using a centrifuge that plugs into a car lighter, spinning down samples in cabs, at night in the middle of a tiny Namibian village, on 3 hours sleep, for 14 hours a day, translating through two people and four languages, with the assistance of the one ten year old in a village who knows where the dogs hide, while being called a witch because the dogs don't run away from me....

You get the idea. Wouldn't you want to spend your summer doing that?

2 comments:

Graeson said...

Yes. Yes I would like to spend my summer doing that.

tchaalanBiol419 said...

hey did you travel to Lebanon yet? I'm Lebanese and I just wanted to say that it is a beautiful country and I hope you have a lot of fun during your travels. cool blog!