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GENEWELL Report Summary

Project ID: 322206
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: Sweden

Final Report Summary - GENEWELL (Genetics and epigenetics of animal welfare)

The physical and psychological health of animals under human care is at center-stage of societal and scientific considerations in Europe. Understanding the biology of animal welfare is therefore of great importance both to inform policy makers and to envisage ways to mitigate poor welfare in food production. In the present project, we have used novel methods in genetic and epigenetic analysis tools to advance a novel perspective on the biology of animal welfare. For example, we have used both genetic and epigenetic tools to understand how flexibility in stress responses are controlled, using chickens and main model species. We have generated world-unique crosses between ancestral Red Junglefowl and domesticated egg layers and explored the role of genes that have been selected during domestication. Furthermore, we have explored the extensive human-animal bond between dogs and humans and their genetic underpinnings. Using novel behavioural tests and genome-wide association studies we have localised genes of central importance for social interactions between dogs and humans. Two highlights from the project are: (1) The stress history from rearing chickens in intensive environments can be effectively traced in the DNA-methylation profiles in blood cells, opening a new way of assessing animal welfare in a very long time perspective. (2) During domestication, dogs have been selected for intense social interactions with humans. This has been achieved by selecting genetic variants highly involved in human social disorders, such as autism and ADHD, opening the possibility of using dogs as genetic models for human sociality.

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