The expected results for each of the three themes indicated in the summary and the project’s External Evaluation System are noted below.
Over the course of their coevolution with humans, dogs have acquired the capacity to use their gaze socially in the same way humans do. This ability is a non-verbal communication skill specific to humans and dogs that exceeds even the capabilities of chimpanzees. Clarifying the mechanism by which non-verbal communication was established through analysis of the interaction between dogs and humans will have two primary results. First, the efficiency of training for working dogs, such as seeing eye dogs, for whom the passing rate is less than 30%, can be dramatically improved. Second, it will be possible to create effective programs for children with developmental disorders such as autism who show improvement through interaction with dogs. Further, an industrial effect is expected, as this research will lead to the creation of devices to smooth human communication through IT.
Identifying genes related to the above-noted interaction will provide a basis for determining causative genes in individuals with communication and social disorders, as humans acquired the same ability through co-evolution. This process focuses on Japanese dog breeds. As wolves, who share the same ancestral species, are unable to use gaze communication with humans, it can be concluded that dogs acquired this ability in the genetic transition between wolves and ordinary dogs. Comprehensive genetic analysis of dogs has suggested that Japanese dog breeds are closely related to wolves (Science, 2004). In other words, the existence of Japanese dog breeds is genetically unique in that these breeds lie between highly domesticated dogs and wolves. Thus, research on Japanese breeds holds the key to identifying the genes involved in coevolution with humans. Further, identification of domestication genes acquired by humans and canines is directly applicable to producing new domestic animals. Creating animals that are easily bred by humans would also help resolve nutritional problems in specific environments such as Africa. Additionally, the identification of disease-related genes due to coevolution with humans would yield results of direct medical significance. Until last year, our university worked to establish a canine gene bank under the Private University Strategic Research Foundation Building and Support Project and has collected approximately 16,000 canine DNA specimens, primarily from dogs with various gene-related diseases. The elucidation of the causative genes in these genetic diseases will greatly contribute to the development of diagnoses and novel treatment methods.
Collaborative research in the form of a cohort study is already being implemented in order to summarize the effects of animal ownership, primarily of dogs, on developing children. The importance of animals in the home for nuclear families, in particular for empathy and communication skills, as well as the relation to the occurrence rate of asthma and atopy will be revealed and social recommendations for pet ownership in the home issued. Using a mouse model, phenotypes found to be immunologically related and the mechanisms of their effects will be elucidated and beneficial microorganisms shared between animals and humans identified. Previously, this university succeeded in demonstrating the function of bacterial flora by establishing said flora taken from humans or animals in germ-free mice. Further, in globally unprecedented research, we succeeded in the complete artificial suckling of mice and prepared an environment in which neonatal period bacterial flora can be freely manipulated. With this strong foundation, we will evaluate bacteria taken from humans and animals in order to identify beneficial strains. We have also seen success in detecting trace molecules using mass spectrometry. With numerous patents and a true understanding of molecular identification, we will be able not only to reveal beneficial bacteria, but in fact to identify particular beneficial molecules. If we are able to recognize beneficial bacteria and molecules, this will contribute to the development of food products and supplements directed at improving human health with this knowledge as a base.
The future prospects and social effects of this project were planned after careful preparatory meetings with Kenichi Masuda, the president of Animal Allergy Clinical Laboratories (Inc.). In this project, each research team will perform a self-evaluation of the study results and submit a self-evaluation report to the university’s Research Promotion/Support Office after Year 3 (interim report) and Year 5 (final report). Additionally, an external evaluation committee will conduct a third-party assessment of the progress and achievements of the project each year. A report summarizing these evaluations will be presented to the Academic Research Strategy Council by the Research Promotion/Support Office. Decisions on whether the study will continue the following year and on the allocation of funding will be based on this information. As described above, we are prepared to develop research applicable to society’s needs through coordination with these external facilities and by receiving third party evaluation.