Sandy the dingo has won the world’s most interesting genome competition

Sandy the dingo. Image: UNSW

A pure female Australian desert dingo called Sandy Maliki has taken out first place in the World’s Most Interesting Genome competition.

Sandy was one of five finalists for the Pacific Biosciences SMRT Grant, which sequences the complete genome of a fascinating plant or animal.

The public determined the winner, with two-year-old Sandy getting 41% of the international votes, closely followed by a Temple Pitviper snake, then a solar-powered sea slug, an explosive bombardier beetle and a pink pigeon.

“Sandy is truly a gift to science,” says Professor Bill Ballard of the UNSW School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences.

“As a rare, wild-born pure dingo, she provides a unique case study. Pure dingoes are intermediate between wild wolves and domestic dogs, with a range of non-domesticated traits.

“So sequencing Sandy’s genome will help pinpoint some of the genes for temperament and behaviour that underlie the transition from wild animals to perfect pets.”

Sandy and her sister and brother were discovered close to death as three-week-old pups in the Australian desert near the Strzelecki Track in 2014 by animal lovers Barry and Lyn Eggleton who then hand-reared them.

Watch Sandy:

The dingo sequencing project will test Charles’ Darwin’s 1868 theory that domestication of animals can be divided into two steps: unconscious selection as a result of non-intentional human influences; and artificial selection as a result of breeding by humans for desired traits.

“This project will reveal the DNA changes between wolves and dingoes (unconscious selection) and dingoes and dogs (artificial selection),” says Professor Ballard.

A key aim of the annual international PacBio competition, which attracted more than 200 entries this year, is to raise public awareness of science and how genomic research can benefit society.

Sandy’s team, which set up a DancingwithDingoes Facebook page, enlisted support of people around the world, including animal conservationists and fans of wolves, dingoes and dogs.

The sequencing will be carried out at the University of Arizona, with initial analysis by Computomics in Germany.

Dingoes were introduced to Australia about 5000 years ago. It is widely accepted they were not domesticated by Indigenous Australians.

Pure dingoes are becoming increasingly rare as the native animals interbreed with wild dogs and domestic dogs, and are targeted as pests by landowners.

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