Skip to Main Content


July 16, 2007
Volume 85, Number 29
p. 48

Doggie DNA

Doggie DNA: Fido's family tree

DNA testing has gone to the DOGS. The test that was once used primarily to settle paternity suits is now being used to tell pet owners more about their mutts. For about $65, you can find out about Fido's ancestry or predisposition to genetic diseases.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the earliest demand for dog DNA tests came from the American Kennel Club's attempts to validate the pedigrees for 155 breeds of dogs. When the club implemented the policy nine years ago, random inspections indicated that 13% of puppies had the wrong parents listed on their pedigrees. Today the pedigree error rate is much lower—about 4%.

Genetic tests are available for other animals too. They can be used to determine the sex of birds or the coat color that cats may pass on to their kittens.

Round-The-World Rubber Ducks

In 1992, 29,000 RUBBER DUCKS, turtles, and frogs left China bound for bathtubs in the U.S. But one dark and stormy night near the international date line, they broke free of their cargo ship and began an oceanic journey that has taken them halfway around the world.

Ducks in row: Bound for distant shores

Along the way, the toys have been helping oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer chart the great ocean currents. Apparently, they're much more likely to be reported to authorities whilst bobbing on the ocean than the floats that oceanographers typically use to track currents.

The Daily Mail, a U.K. newspaper, recently traced the rubber floaters' 15-year journey. They have traveled more than 17,000 miles, visiting the sun-kissed shores of Hawaii, washing up on New England's beaches, and even freezing in an Arctic ice pack. The duckies et al. are now on course for Britain.

How have the bathtub toys managed to stay adrift all these years? One word: plastics. The durable material has kept the ducks watertight, enabling them to stay afloat and continue their journey.

Smelly Tomatoes


Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet? What if it were a TOMATO? Researchers in Israel have genetically engineered tomatoes that smell like roses and lemons (Nat. Biotechnol., DOI: 10.1038/nbt1312).

Efraim Lewinsohn and his colleagues at the Newe Ya'ar Research Center created transgenic tomatoes that produce the enzyme geraniol synthase. Of the 82 taste-testers who gave the tomatoes a try, 49 preferred them to the natural variety. Nearly everyone was able to sniff out the fruit's fragrance, describing it as similar to "rose" and "lemongrass."

The GM tomatoes have less of the antioxidant compound lycopene than their conventional cousins, giving them a lighter red color. On the plus side, the rosy tomatoes have higher levels of terpenoids, which possess antimicrobial, pesticidal, and antifungal qualities. The elevated terpenoid levels could translate to a longer shelf life and less need for pesticides.

This week's column was written by Bethany Halford. Please send comments and suggestions to