​Comparative genomics of Balto, a famous historic dog, captures lost diversity of 1920s sled dogs


We reconstruct the phenotype of Balto, the heroic sled dog renowned for transporting diphtheria antitoxin to Nome, Alaska, in 1925, using evolutionary constraint estimates from the Zoonomia alignment of 240 mammals and 682 genomes from dogs and wolves of the 21st century. Balto shares just part of his diverse ancestry with the eponymous Siberian husky breed. Balto’s genotype predicts a combination of coat features atypical for modern sled dog breeds, and a slightly smaller stature. He had enhanced starch digestion compared with Greenland sled dogs and a compendium of derived homozygous coding variants at constrained positions in genes connected to bone and skin development. We propose that Balto’s population of origin, which was less inbred and genetically healthier than that of modern breeds, was adapted to the extreme environment of 1920s Alaska.

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Last modified: Feb 06, 2024