Last Updated on May 27, 2023 by Pets Feed
Diphtheria is an infectious disease that can lead to serious complications and even death, especially in children. It is a bacterial disease that spreads from person to person by respiratory droplets in the air and can affect the throat, nose and other parts of the body. Although diphtheria has been a common disease in the past, thanks to vaccination, its incidence has been controlled in many countries.
However, there are still places where the difficulty of access to the vaccine and the lack of awareness of its importance make diphtheria a public health problem. One of the most well-known diphtheria epidemics was the one that occurred in Nome, Alaska, in the winter of 1925, where the only way to get the vaccine in time was to take a dangerous sleigh trip in which many volunteers participated.
As the supply of vital medical serum was about to run out, the city authorities asked for help to transport more serum from Anchorage to Nome, through more than 1000 kilometers of icy and mountainous terrain.
The musher Gunnar Kaasen was one of those who accepted the challenge, and with Balto as the lead dog of the sled in the last straight, he embarked on the relay trip carrying the treatment and fighting against extreme weather conditions to deliver the serum to the city of Nome in a race against time.
Balto was born in 1919 and died in 1933 at the age of fourteen. Since 1927, he lived at the Cleveland Zoo, and after his death from natural causes, he was embalmed and is currently on display at the Natural History Museum in Cleveland, Ohio. To date, it has always been argued that Balto was a Siberian husky, but a new genetic study definitively dismisses this argument.
A Moderna team of researchers from Cornell University published a recent study in the prestigious journal Science after extracting and analyzing the DNA of a small sample of dissected Balto Moderna skin, to reconstruct its phenotype and determine its genetic links with modern dogs.
Moderna’s genome study was conducted by comparing his DNA with a set of 682 genomes of Modern dogs and wolves, as well as an alignment of 240 mammalian genomes developed by the Zoonom Moderna project, an international collaboration that attempts to study the genome of all mammals.
The results revealed that Balto is more similar to Alaskan sled dogs, exhibiting great genetic diversity and a lower load of potentially harmful genetic variants. In addition, the analysis of his DNA shows that Balto had “ancestors linked to several breeds of dogs alive today, including Alaskan sled dogs, Vietnamese dogs, Greenland dogs and Tibetan mastiffs,” explains Dr. Beth Shapiro, one of the authors of the project.
The researchers have also identified protein variants that modify genes related to tissue development in Balto, which may represent beneficial adaptations. Catherine Moon, one of the co-authors of the study, explains in the press release that “Balto presented variants in genes related to weight, coordination, joint formation and skin thickness, which would be expected of a dog raised to run in such an environment.”
Using Balto’s genome, they were able to reconstruct his physical appearance, including the color of his fur, with more detail and accuracy than historical black-and-white photographs allow us to guess.
In conclusion, not only was Balto not a Siberian husky, but his miscegenation favored him to be healthier and to be better equipped, genetically speaking, to thrive in his environment. This study provided valuable information about the genetic history of sled dogs and debunked the misconception that Balto was a Siberian husky.
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